In Russia, some experts see intensifying cooperation within the Quad format—U.S. President Joe Biden hosting its first virtual summit, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visiting India—as a sign of its institutionalization. A few have even gone as far as to suggest that this will lead to the creation of an “Asian NATO.” What is the reality? How will India’s involvement in the Quad and the promotion of the Indo-Pacific strategy impact on Indo-Russian ties?

President Biden hosted the first virtual summit of the Quad on March 12. The fact that the meeting took place suggests that the Quad is slowly institutionalizing, and that it is likely to develop further as a key institution bringing together America’s democratic friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific to deal with a whole range of issues pertaining to the region. But I don’t believe that this development presages a military alliance. Each of the countries in the Quad has a very complex relationship with China, and they will attempt to manage those relationships on their own terms. They recognize the importance of collaboration among themselves to maintain a rules-based order, but I don’t believe they are ready just yet to sign up to any military alliance-like collaboration. The United States has bilateral alliances with Japan and Australia already, but transforming the Quad into a multilateral alliance is a very, very long way away.

India’s involvement in the Quad is interesting because India is in any case one of the critical pillars on which the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is based. It’s not surprising, therefore, that India would feature very prominently in our Indo-Pacific discussions going forward. But for India too, the Quad is fundamentally a forum for diplomatic cooperation, for orchestrating coordination in the production of global public goods, and to create a collective entity that could strengthen the larger rules-based order. For India, perhaps more than for any other Quad country, the idea of treating the Quad as a military alliance is entirely anathema. So India will continue to support its other partners in maintaining an Indo-Pacific region that is free in particular of Chinese hegemony, but it will not use the Quad mechanism as an instrument for the military confrontation of China.

Recently, Indian diplomats, media figures, and experts sought to promote in Moscow the idea of Russia’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific. Is this realistic? How would you compare Washington and Delhi’s concepts of the Indo-Pacific?

Yes, Indian diplomats have been very eager to secure Russia’s participation in the broader Indo-Pacific construct, because Indian strategists fear that a Russia that is left out of the Indo-Pacific has increased incentives to move closer to China, and a deeper Russia-China partnership is unsettling from India’s point of view. India would much prefer a Russian relationship with China that is thinner than it currently is: a relationship in which Russia deepens its ties with other Quad partners, rather than being left out of the Indo-Pacific space and left entirely in Chinese arms.

How effective are Moscow’s efforts to facilitate contacts and dialogue between Delhi and Beijing? Does RIC—the Russia, India, and China grouping—stand for anything useful, in your view?

I think Moscow’s efforts to help the dialogue between Delhi and Beijing have been useful, but I would not overstate their significance. The Russia-India-China summit provided an opportunity as we all know for India and China to get together and create some new understandings about managing the disengagement along the Sino-Indian border. That the forum was used for this purpose was largely accidental. I think India views Russia as a very important component of its larger foreign policy, but it also recognizes that Russian aims with respect to China are significantly different from India’s own understanding of China. India sees China as much more of a competitor, perhaps even an adversary, whereas Russia’s perceptions of China are entirely different today. We can expect that India will make every effort to bring Russia into the Indo-Pacific construct, because it is an opportunity for India to wean Russia away as far as it can from China, which of course is India’s most significant challenge. 

This Q&A was published as part of the “Relaunching U.S.-Russia Dialogue on Global Challenges: The Role of the Next Generation” project, implemented in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Russia. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Embassy to Russia.

  • Ashley J. Tellis