Despite increased uncertainty about the economic prospects of Russia, India, and China (RIC), these countries continue to attract significant attention as potential sources of concerted counterbalancing postures vis-à-vis the developed world. Ideas about creating an informal grouping—RIC—to coordinate foreign policies have been on the table since the late 1990s. All three prospective members have been positioning themselves as aspiring nations capable of sustaining economic growth without excessive dependence on developed states. However, relations along the three sides of the imagined China-Russia-India triangle have proven uneven. Moscow has touted its “strategic partnership” with Beijing (dating from their 2001 Friendship Treaty), and there are sizeable Chinese investments in the Russian energy sector. China has also engaged economically with India, but China-India ties have not been as close as they need to be for RIC to graduate into a full-fledged multilateral consultation forum. Defying expectations, the three states have not been issuing joint high-profile declarations highlighting their unity or aligning views to facilitate coordination on pressing issues of global relevance.
The main structural reason for this lack of cohesion is that RIC is composed of states that do not have enough allure and resources to play a global leadership role but are reluctant to follow any other powers aspiring to such a role. The RIC states do not champion attractive global agendas, their foreign policy aspirations being focused mainly on their respective neighborhoods. At the same time, the RIC states cherish their freedom of maneuver on the world stage and refrain from committing to firm rules of alliance behavior—at least in the long term—if the alliance involves a peer nation and, particularly, the United States.
Pursuing their largely parochial interests, RIC states have for the most part hedged their bets when engaging in balancing behavior vis-à-vis the United States and its allies. In the course of the Ukraine conflict, however, Russia has tried to galvanize global anti-U.S. grievances and build a much more resolute anti-Western alliance. To date, this has elicited mixed responses by China and India. They have turned Russia’s anti-Western bid to their own economic advantage, while avoiding picking sides in the dispute over Ukraine and refraining from conspicuously adversarial moves vis-à-vis the United States.