Last week, several members of India and Russia’s think tank community sat down for two days of conversation in Moscow. Since so much of our knowledge on Russian affairs comes filtered either through the prism of Western reportage or though pro-establishment Russian media, engaging in closed-door discussions with leading intellectuals and policy influencers was particularly valuable. Here are some of my impressions after participating in the talks.
First, what came across quite clearly is that the Russian establishment sees itself in a state of siege. US sanctions have raised international pressure on the country — even if the Russians are loath to admit — and are pushing Moscow into greater isolation. Consequently, the paranoia of the siege mentality colours both elite and popular perceptions of international events. So the Russians might see, say, India’s closer engagement of the United States, Australia and Japan, in the form of the Quad, as partly inimical to their own interests. They are aware but do not give too much credence to the argument that the Quad is part of India’s effort to manage China’s rising power in our extended neighbourhood.