Russia and USA: Changing Dynamics of South Asia

By Rajkumar Singh

For the last some years Russia has been struggling hard to regain its power and influence in South Asia which it lost with withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan at the close of 1980s. There onwards the region witnessed several ups and downs including the emergence of the People’s Republic of China as the second largest economy of the world, only next to the US and taking over the position once enjoyed by the old USSR against America. 

Besides Russia has been working for long to make US and its allies in various parts of the world and has succeeded in its objectives in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, creating division in NATO members and to some extent in degrading Western alliance. 

However, the Kremlin’s motives and objectives became clear with its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 after conducting a referendum there. The same time Barack Obama was the President of America who refocused its Asia policy and first tried to persuade China to work as a junior partner of the US. The plan failed and the US began to improve its strategic partnership with New Delhi and revived its interest in resurgence of Quad- an association of five maritime democratic nations that include, US, Japan, Australia, India and South Africa, apart from forging new alliances with countries of South and Southeast Asia and nations around the Indian Ocean region to encircle China and contain its hegemony at regional and global levels.

Despite all these today in 2021, the US alliance in South Asia and in its surroundings appears weak and poor in comparison to emerging joint front of China, Russia, and Pakistan, viewed in the light of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia taking keen interest in Kabul peace process and China, a heavyweight power, having its clout on most nations of the region except India and Bhutan who are still not in favor of Chinese Belt and Road Initiative project.

Perceptional background

At the time Second World War ended in 1945, there were two great dominating powers – the United States of America (USA)and Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), representing two powerful ideological currents of the time-Capitalism and Communism that prepared the basic grounds for their keen competition and regional as well as global rivalry. It also matched with the timing of a large number of countries mostly from Asia, Africa and Latin America struggling for their independence and sovereignty and the two superpowers, USA and USSR became active and aggressively competitive in influencing them and getting their favor in order to dominate the world politics in times to come. This situation brought before the world a war-like circumstance, not hot or declared but a Cold War, a mind game to defeat each other in areas of their influence and for the purpose they founded several military and non-military alliances, such as, NATO, WARSA, SEATO, CENTO and many more. In a significant development in Asia, only four years later in 1949, another state, China emerged as a powerful Communist country which further enhanced US challenge in the region and in Southeast Asia, in particular, although after some time it also gave birth to a rivalry between China and USSR itself. The two potent forces of the time had almost opposite ideology, system of government, structural setup, party system, economic mind-set and system of centralized or decentralized control, freedom of individual and press as well. These two variants worked forcefully during the entire period of the Cold War which roughly lasted till the disintegration of the USSR in early 1990s. However, the same competition between them, with China as forerunner of the Communist group emerged again from the year 2000, and now it has taken an ugly form across the world including the region South Asia.

Characteristics of South Asia

In comparison to other regions of the world, the countries of South Asia are complex, volatile and politically explosive. It is a region that lies between the sea routes of the Indian Ocean, more precisely, Persian Gulf and Asia-Pacific and land routes of Central Asia connecting Europe to the East. It is also a large reservoir of natural and human resources, making it a prime destination for finance capital, a lucrative market for trade and a source of cheap raw material and viewing its potential the region has always been an arena of great power competition and their management and so it has been famous in previous decades for rivalry among three contending powers- America, China and Russia. At regional level these three big countries have been active to show their influence on India and Pakistan, divided in terms of polarization. Most of the period while India has functioned as an ally of Soviet Union, Pakistan has clearly sided with the United States of America in addition to its moderate role in Muslim countries, Middle East and the Gulf areas on behalf of the West but in recent years for China too. In contemporary South Asia, the power dynamics has changed in the last two decades due to the active role of Russia under President Vladimir Putin, emergence of China in parallel to the US and Russia and Pakistan coming to Beijing’s side.

Current Status

It all began with the reentry of the US, the single super power of the time, in the year 2001 and strengthening of its relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. At the same time, the activation of Russia with its close relations and acceptance of China as a big power of the region and a potential challenger of America at global level testify the fact that the region South Asia is going to be a hot bed of world politics in coming years and decades. Although, viewing the possible polarization the US had also worked continuously to cap the hegemonic and expansionist China but it was strongly reverted back to the US and the latter had failed miserably to check/stop Beijing’s day-night growth of capability at regional and global level. In between these complex situations a more delicate dilemma has emerged before India in its relations with Russia and Pakistan’s relations with America, both being trusted and tested allies of each other. It appears that a renewed wave of new Cold War is at South Asia’s doorstep.

(The author is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India. He can be reached at 

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