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5.3 India-Russia Relations

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Every child in India knows, who is India’s best friend. (Russia)

PM Narendra Modi.

History of India Russia relations

USSR was India’s most trusted ally, USSR not only contributed for India’s security, it has been a pillar of Indials scientific and industrial development.
1971 – Indo Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation

Relationships after the end of cold war.
Immediately after the end of cold war, Russia adopted pro west policy. Russia came under USA’s pressure. Russia denied the transfer of technology related to Cryogenic engines. Russia insisted to settle the debt in dollars.

However very soon Russia realized that Russia cannot trust the west. Even during the time of Yelstein, Russia reviewed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. (* Then 1971 treaty contained clause 9 which assured a sort of defence to each other in case of attack from the third party). The new treaty removed this clause but emphasized on strengthened partnership. (~ 1993).

PM Putin launched multivector foreign policy. It was during Putin’s visit as a president that India Russia entered into strategic partnership in the year 2000. It was elevated to the special and privileged strategic partnership in 2010.

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Strongest areas of strategic partnership.

1] Defence. Russia continues to be the leading supplier. In 2017, 67% of India’s defence hardware import were from Russia. Russia’s monopoly is challenged by US, Israel, France and other European countries. Russia has provided high end technology with limited conditionalities. India and Russia are going for joint development, production, marketing and sale.  (e.g. Brahmos cruise missile)

2] Russia has provided India access to Its GLONASS system, meant for the sensitive military information. (Russian Satellite Navigation System).

3] Civil nuclear cooperation. This is a very much potential for cooperation which includes transfer of technology, localization, joint production, mining and nuclear safety.

4] Hydrocarbons – ONGC Videsh Ltd. Has taken stakes in Russian oil fields in Siberia.

5] Convergence on geopolitical issues. Russia and India shared the view of multipolar world order. Russia does not endorse USA’s concept of free and open Indo Pacific, however Russia has extended the support for India’s rule based world order

6] However India Russia relations are not passing through the best of times. There are some concerns on both the sides. Russia has huge concern as USA is emerging as a major defence partner for India. Russia feels that India is coming under US pressure. Russia believes that the defence contracts have not been transparent in India. From India’s point of view, India is not replacing Russia but Russia is not in a position to fulfill the diversified needs of India.

7] US sanctions against Russia has pushed Russia in ‘tactical alliance’ with China.

8] The emerging security situation in Afghanistan compels Russia to work with Pakistan

9] India US partnership and Russia’s closeness with China and Pakistan, to the extend that Russia has removed self imposed moratorium on the sale of offensive weapons to China and Pakistan.

10] Though there are serious concerns, yet India and Russia need to be transparent and maintain the channels of communication. India is one such country which will never go against the rise of Russia. On the other hand, Russia may have to pay huge prize if Russia goes for allowing China’s dominance in central Asia.  Russia should not forget the role of Pakistan in collapse of USSR, which Putin himself consider as biggest geopolitical disaster. Pakistan is coming closer to Russia to gain leverage on USA. Russia’s flirtations with Pakistan are not new. Even during cold war, Russia tried to bring Pakistan to its side. Russia’s attitude in 1965 war and Russia’s role in Tashkent agreement has not been in India’s favour. Similarly there is a frozen conflict between Russia and China in Siberia. Hence India did the right thing in reminding that one old friend is better than the two new friends. Russia has been compelled to seek closeness with China, India should use its position for bridge building between US and Russia against the common threat i.e. Rising China. However it doesn’t seem an easy task because of divisive politics in USA. Russia is not USSR and India of 21st century is not dependent on Russia as it used to be. Russia is isolated. India should draw the red lines. Russia can go ahead with the partnership with China and Pakistan in the present age of complex interdependence yet Russia should not take any action which can cost to India’s security. India needs ‘candid dialogue’.
Today Russia needs India more as India is one of the largest importers or arms.

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Views of Scholars.

Views of Srinath Raghavan

It is just a myth that India Russia relations have been too idealistic. Russia has always seen India through the prism of realism. In 1962 war, Russia shared intelligence with China, had put the supply of Migs on hold. Again in 1965 war,  Russia pressed India to return the occupied territories.

During cold war, Russia has seen India from the prism of geopolitical competition with USA. After the end of cold war, Russia is again looking at the relations with the prism of realism. Russia looks at India from transactional perspective as a buyer. Thus from Russia’s side, relationship has always been based on its own interest.

C Rajamohan
According to C Rajamohan, Russia’s embrace of China, its flirtations with Pakistan are creating unease for India. India should look at Russia with ‘clear eyed realism’. For long India campaigned for multipolar world. Now multipolar world is here and India should learn how to live with it. As middle powers, there is lot Delhi and Moscow can do with each other. In the idealistic south block, the word transactional may not appear nice but in the real world of politics, transactional is better than mere sentimental.

According to Shyam Sharan, nostalgia of soviet era may be useful but it cannot drive the relations at present.
The weakest aspect of India Russia relations is that it is driven through government to govt. relations. No relationship can move forward only on single track. There is need to strengthen economic engagement which is just $10 bn. Operationalization of INSTC (Int. North South Transport Corridor) may improve the scenario. We have to improve people to people relations also.

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