New Delhi Says Indo-US Ties Won't Come at Moscow's Expense

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - India said it does not intend to improve its ties with the United States at the expense of alienating Russia, even as a CIA report observed that the formerly close ties between New Delhi and Moscow are weakening.

"During the Cold War period, India was largely viewed by outsiders as the junior partner (of the Soviet Union)... The relationship is no longer one of equals [as] India is pre-eminent because it is rising while Russia is declining," said the CIA report released on Wednesday in Washington.

"India is seen as exploring new strategic relationship with the West, especially in the US, whereas Russia is seeking a form of accommodation," Enders Wimbush of Strategic Applications International Corporation said in Washington on Wednesday.

The CIA report said India still trusts Russia, "a sentiment that is perhaps a residue of the genuine friendship of Cold War days, but clearly not in the same way it once did."

Indian Ambassador to Russia, Satindar Kumar Lambah, said in Moscow on Wednesday that Indo-Russian relations continue to be characterized by "great faith".

"We attach great importance to our relations with Russia, which are of trust and confidence," Lambah said.

"We welcome when other countries want to improve relations with us, but this improvement cannot diminish our old and traditional friendship and strategic partnership with Russia. There is absolutely no debate in the Indian polity and the government over this issue (Indo-Russian relations)," Lambah emphasized.

There has been a discernible shift in the Bush administration's policy in South Asia, especially towards India.

Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca is currently on a visit to the region, and there is considerable recognition among strategic affairs analysts about India's primacy and the need to complete the emerging strategic relationship between Washington and New Delhi.

Rocca, a former CIA official who took over as the Assistant Secretary for South Asian affairs eight weeks ago, signaled the broad contours of the Bush policy by repeatedly stressing the strategic ties the United States wants to have with India as a continuation of the "natural ties" between the two large democracies.

"We see India emerging as a major world player and we want to continue the transformation in our relationship (that began under the previous administration)," Rocca said in New Delhi.

"We want to have bilateral relationships that are truly bilateral. We do not intend to view relations with one country through the prism of a third country," she said.

India and the United States have also decided to revive the inter-government Defense Planning Group.

In the first high-level military contact after India conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton said in New Delhi last month that 'substantive' defense ties with India were not aimed at either Pakistan or China.

Emerging after a series of meetings with top defense and security brass, Shelton said that the inter-government Defense Planning Group would be revived by the year-end and would chalk out a framework for military contact program.

Shelton said that the United States and India were 'natural allies' and that the "growing military engagement with India had nothing to do with China." He called the United States' relationship with China one of engagement and said Washington saw Beijing as a non-adversary.

"A significant diplomatic play is at work between the US, China and Russia and it has entered a critical stage. It is a game that could significantly transform India's security environment in the coming years," New Delhi based strategic affairs expert C. Raja Mohan said.