Relations with Russia are a key pillar of India’s foreign policy, and Russia has been a longstanding time-tested partner of India. Both countries signed “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000
Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space.
- A cordial relationship with India that began in the 1950s represented the most successful of the Soviet attempts to foster closer relations with Third World countries. The relationship began with a visit by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Soviet Union in June 1955 and Khrushchev’s return trip to India in the fall of 1955. While in India, Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union supported Indian sovereignty over the disputed territory of the Kashmir region and over Portuguese coastal enclaves such as Goa.
- The Soviet Union’s strong relations with India had a negative impact upon both Soviet relations with the People’s Republic of China, including Indian relations with the PRC, during the Khrushchev period.
- The Soviet Union declared its neutrality during the 1959 border dispute and the Sino-Indian war of October 1962, although the Chinese strongly objected.
- The Soviet Union gave India substantial economic and military assistance during the Khrushchev period, and by 1960 India had received more Soviet assistance than China had. This disparity became another point of contention in Sino-Soviet relations. In 1962 the Soviet Union agreed to transfer technology to co-produce the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 jet fighter in India, which the Soviet Union had earlier denied to China.
- In 1965 the Soviet Union served successfully as peace broker between India and Pakistan after an Indian-Pakistani border war. The Soviet Chairman of the Council of Ministers, literally Premier of the Soviet Union, Alexei Kosygin, met with representatives of India and Pakistan and helped them negotiate an end to the military conflict over Kashmir.
- In 1971 the former East Pakistan region initiated an effort to secede from its political union with West Pakistan. India supported the secession and, as a guarantee against possible Chinese entrance into the conflict on the side of West Pakistan, it signed with the Soviet Union the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in August 1971. In December, India entered the conflict and ensured the victory of the secessionists and the establishment of the new state of Bangladesh.
- Relations between the Soviet Union and India did not suffer much during the rightist Janata Party‘s coalition government in the late 1970s, although India did move to establish better economic and military relations with Western countries. To counter these efforts by India to diversify its relations, the Soviet Union proffered additional weaponry and economic assistance.
- During the 1980s, despite the 1984 assassination by Sikh separatists of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the mainstay of cordial Indian-Soviet relations, India maintained a close relationship with the Soviet Union. Indicating the high priority of relations with the Soviet Union in Indian foreign policy, the new Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, visited the Soviet Union on his first state visit abroad in May 1985 and signed two long-term economic agreements with the Soviet Union. In turn, Gorbachev’s first visit to a Third World state was his meeting with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi in late 1986.
- Mikhail Gorbachev unsuccessfully urged Gandhi to help the Soviet Union set up an Asian collective security system. Gorbachev’s advocacy of this proposal, which had also been made by Leonid Brezhnev, was an indication of continuing Soviet interest in using close relations with India as a means of containing China. With the improvement of Sino-Soviet relations in the late 1980s, containing China had less of a priority, but close relations with India remained important as an example of Gorbachev’s new Third World policy.
Russia needs India as:
- A market for its goods to bypass Western sanctions imposed after its power push in Ukraine.
- The forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership driven by the US will also force Russia to eye markets beyond Europe. India is a natural partner.
- Despite its renewed friendship with China, Russia will soon find itself in competition with it as Beijing regards itself as the new G2 along with the US.
- India can help provide the multi-polarity that Russia fiercely seeks.
India needs Russia because
- It can meet its abundant energy requirements at a cost-effective price.
- Despite expanding its defence purchases from the US, Israel and Europe, India still needs to collaborate with Russia to master future technology including for space.
- It improves India’s bargaining power when it negotiates arms sales with the West.
- Russia can be a major market for Indian industry such as pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy , Products, bovine meat and frozen seafood.
- Geopolitically, Russia continues to be a balancing force against any designs China and Pakistan may have in our region.
Strain in the relationship
- The first concerns the rapidly expanding ties between India and USA, which started with the India US nuclear deal in 2008.
- The second concerns the growing defence relationship between India and USA.
- Russia’s decision to supply Pakistan with the Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters has alarmed the Indian defense establishment. The Russia-Pakistan joint exercises raise many questions
- India having its own military exercises with the U.S. and has signed logistics agreements which can eventually give the U.S. access to Indian naval bases.
- Russia had proposed a Russia-India-China (RIC) forum. India is hesitant about this because of the∙ unresolved issues with China.
- Russia-India trade has not grown to great heights despite the encouragement of both states.
- Recently India and Russia decided to institutionalize the CEO’s Forum and agreed to liberalize business travel which will help boost bilateral trade Russia sees India – one of the fastest growing economies in the world – as a country that could alleviate Russia’s economic problems.
- Make in India initiative would welcome Russian companies from the public and private sectors Russian firms have shown a willingness to invest in India in construction, major infrastructure projects such as dedicated freight corridors and industrial clusters, smart cities, and engineering services, sharing technologies and skills.
- Indian companies are exploring major investment options in Russia, especially in natural resources∙ such as coal, fertilizers, hydrocarbons, minerals, and rare earth metals Trade and investment relations are not up to the mark and this needs improvements.
According to the International Energy Agency, India will cross Japan as the world’s third largest oil user this year, and is expected to have the highest rate of growth of crude demand globally through 2040.
The sale of a 98% stake in Essar Oil to a consortium led by Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft is significant step in the process of deleveraging the balance sheets of Indian corporate.
The Russia-India investments in the oil and gas sector and exports to third countries need to be energised. Russia is an important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and it recognizes India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record.
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is being built in India with Russian cooperation.
- New Delhi needs Moscow’s support in the former’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council
- The Russians have backed the Indian position on Kashmir.
- India and Russia are engaged in several multilateral efforts that are greatly favoured by Russia such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
- Annual Summit meeting is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism under the Strategic Partnership
- India has longstanding and wide-ranging cooperation with Russia in the field of defence. India-Russia military technical cooperation has evolved from a simple buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems.
- BrahMos Missile System, Joint development of the Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft and the Multi Transport Aircraft, as well as the licensed production in India of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks, are 3 examples of such flagship cooperation.
- Last year in June, the Prime Minister dedicated to the nation the Russian-built aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya at a special ceremony off the coast of Goa.∙
- The two countries also hold exchanges and training exercises between their armed forces annually.
- An Indian contingent participated in the military parade in Moscow on 9 May 2015 during the 70th anniversary of the victory in the World War II. India-Russia defence ties reached a new high recently, when the countries unveiled a big- ticket joint.
- The announcement of joint production of helicopters in India dispelled fears that the bilateral defence relations are in a quagmire. The timing of the announcement particularly after the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia, and his meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is no less significant.
- Modi has already declared that Russia is the primary defence supplier of India, and, in this context, it will not be a surprise if more defence deals are announced in coming months.
- Indian Ambassador to Russia displayed substantiated optimism when he averred that the recent deal about joint production of 200 Kamov-226 helicopters is no less than a big bang. A regular watcher of India-Russia relations would find it difficult to disagree with the ambassador.
- The recent announcement dispelled much of pessimism generated by the Rafale deal. Also, particularly after the agreement on the BrahMos missile about a decade ago, not much progress has been made about joint development and production.
- The announcement of joint production of the light transport vehicle, which can be used for rescue, police and military operations, would be another landmark after BrahMos. Any other pair of countries seldom enjoys this type of relationship. The likely transfer of technology in building the helicopter will be advantageous for India.
Significance for India:
- India’s indigenous defence industry is at an infant stage, and Russia’s transfer of technology would boost the indigenous industry. The transfer coupled with a possible license would boost India’s production capability.
- It will also enable India, along with Russia, to market the helicopter in third countries for profit. During the visit of Putin last December, both countries had deliberated on the Kamov-226 deal.
- The deal will be India’s first such defence deal after Prime Minister Modi’s hyped ‘Make in India’ initiative was announced last year. In the area of defence, India can hardly afford to ignore Russia, a strong and reliable partner.
- A strong India-Russia defence partnership is not only desirable but also necessary.
- Russia is an important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and it recognizes India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record.
- In December 2014, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Russia’s Rosatom signed the Strategic Vision for strengthening cooperation in peaceful uses of atomic energy between India and Russia. Russia has proposed a plan to involve India in building Russian-designed nuclear power stations in third countries.
- The cooperation is to be extended to the area of joint extraction of natural uranium and the production of nuclear fuel and atomic waste elimination. Russia has also offered to build over 20 nuclear power units in India, up from the 12 offered earlier.
- The Russian proposal to jointly build nuclear power plants is significant, considering that Rosatom-the State-owned Russian nuclear utility-has 29 nuclear reactors in various stages of planning and construction in more than a dozen countries (the largest internationally).
- These include in Jordan, Hungary, Egypt, Iran, Finland, Turkey and Argentina.
- The new proposals, offered by the Russians as a plank to build on their head-start in the Indian nuclear market, are expected to lay the foundation for what is being termed by Moscow as “long-term, mutually beneficial cooperation in the nuclear sector.
- The Russian proposal builds on a package of inter-governmental and inter-departmental documents signed on the sidelines of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India late last year, as part of a ‘strategic vision for strengthening Indian-Russian cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power’.
- The nuclear cooperation includes building on negotiations to sign an advance contract for the design of the third and fourth reactor units to come up at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu.
- Russia, in accordance with an inter-governmental agreement of 1988 and a supplement to it signed in 1998, is building the Kudankulam nuclear power project, the first 1,000 MWe (megawatt electric) unit of which was connected to the national grid in 2013.
- It is now operating under the one-year warranty maintenance period, which will last until the end of 2015.
- India-Russia cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of outer space dates back to about four decades.This year marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of India’s first satellite “Aryabhatt” on a Russian (then∙ USSR) launch vehicle ‘Soyuz.’
- In 2007, India and Russia signed a framework agreement on cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, including satellite launches, Glonass navigation, remote sensing and other societal applications of outer space. In June 2015, the space agencies have signed a MoU on expansion of cooperation in the field of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.
Issues of terrorism
- Counterterrorism is another area where both countries find a convergence of interest. Both countries strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms, stressing the need for an effective∙ global effort in dealing with the terrorist menace.
- They also called for the elimination, once and for all, of all terrorist “safe havens,” presumably referring to Pakistan. India and Russia also share concerns about the aggravation of the security situation in Afghanistan, including along its borders. India openly shared Russia’s concerns over developments in Syria.
- India’s stance on Syria will certainly help cement its ties with Russia countering the earlier feeling that India was not coming forward to support Russia in difficult times.
There is a strong tradition of Indian studies in Russia. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions.
There is general interest among Russian people in Indian dance, music, yoga and ayurveda. There are regular cultural initiatives to promote people-to-people contacts between India and Russia The President of India inaugurated the Year of Indian Culture ‘Namaste Russia’ in Moscow on 10 May 2015.
17th India-Russia annual summit
- Altogether 16 Agreements / MoUs are signed and more emphasis is on defence procurement.
- India and Russia also signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement for 4 additional Krivak or Talwar Class Stealth Frigates. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Rostec State Corporation signed a Pact worth $ 1 bn to set up a Joint Venture that will make at least 200 Kamov-226T Utility Helicopters in India.
- Signed an agreement on “Information Security” aimed at countering terrorism, drug trafficking and∙ other illegal cross border activities.
- A Science and Technology Commission to facilitate development and sharing of cutting-edge technologies.
- Both the Leaders dedicated to the Nation, 2nd Unit of the Kudankulam Atomic Power Plant. They also laid the foundation stone for two more Units at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
- Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) will work with an Indian fund to invest $ 1 bn.
Tri-lateral relation between Russia-China-Pakistan and its impact on India
- Russia’s growing affinity with Pakistan is bound to give rise to some ruffles between India and Russia. The rivalry between Pakistan and India only gets worse as the latter accuses the former of breaching international border norms.
- Pakistan’s relationship with Moscow deteriorated during 1980s, when the former allied with the West to fight the Soviet in Afghanistan.
- The reason of their rivalry has yet again brought the two countries together, binding them with defence agreements.
- The reason of their rivalry (Afghanistan) has yet again brought the two countries together, binding them with defence agreements.
- In June 2014, Russia announced the lifting of its long-standing embargo on arms sales to Pakistan.
- In November, Russia and Pakistan signed their first ever military cooperation agreement. The Russians argue that if India can buy defence equipment from the U.S., why they (Russia) couldn’t sell to Pakistan. The problem for India, of course, is the strategic import of such moves by Russia.
- Then again, we must realise that our growing proximity to the U.S. reduces our leverage over Russia. As does Russia’s increasing tilt towards China. As always, a bit of history can be useful. Russia leaning towards China to combat the pressure of the West might bring about certain changes in the power pattern in the South Asian region.
- The common apprehension that India and Russia shared with regards to the long borders they shared∙ with China seems to have lost its significance for Russia, as Russia expands its economic, political, and security ties with China.
- It would be overrated to call Russia’s shift towards Pakistan a move taken by the country to bring India on track. The combination of secure Pakistan and China backed by Russia would mean a huge challenge to India’s position in the South Asian region.
- The allegation however, cannot be ignored either. Russian Defense Minister Gen Sergey Shoigu recently visited Islamabad to sign an unprecedented Russia Pakistan defence cooperation agreement. In a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the third meeting of Pak-Russia Inter-Governmental∙ Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation in Moscow, both, Pakistan and Russia, hoped to collaborate in trade, economy, science, technology, agriculture, education, and culture. The growing closeness between Russia and Pakistan is seen as a threat to India’s strategic defence moves.
Decline in Indo-Russia cooperation in present context
- Russia downgrading its military-technical relationship with India from that of an exclusive partner to a preferred partner.
- Such pragmatism should come as no surprise given that India has diversified its own military import portfolio and no longer considers Russia as its exclusive trading partner. Russian military export overtures towards Pakistan are now perceptible.
- In a noteworthy development, Russia recently decided to supply Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters to Pakistan. Prior to this, Moscow had refrained from supplying lethal military equipment to Pakistan on account of New Delhi’s strained relationship with Islamabad-the legacy of this Indo-Russian military exclusivity can be traced all the way back to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace of 1971.
- Consequently, the Pakistan deal caught many geo-political commentators by surprise; some, like Pavel Felgenhauer, have even gone so far as to call it an “important, key change in Russian policy in the region.” Conscious of Indian sensitivities, Russian diplomats have been quick-perhaps too quick-to point out that the negotiations are part of an “ongoing cooperation with Pakistan in the field of defense and counterterrorism.”
- But the 123 Agreement that India signed with the U.S and Russia’s share of military sales to India is now in steady decline. In consonance with India’s enhanced geopolitical status and strategic rapprochement with the U.S., New Delhi has found new partners in the West. Russia’s increasing bond with China also to some extent brings strain in Indo-Russia relations.
- India conducts more military exercises with U.S than any other country. The Chinese arms industry is known for reverse engineering foreign-origin military hardware and has already burned Russia in the past when it acquired a small number of Russian Su-27 Flanker jets and then reverse-engineered the J-11B aircraft.
- In comparison, Indo-Russian military transfers do not have such a checkered past. If China’s questionable reverse engineering practices and its already developed industrial base were factored into Russia’s decision-making calculus, India would emerge as a far superior long-term partner for the Russian arms trade. Going forward, a period of dissonance is to be expected, before India and Russia can adjust to the realpolitik of the present
Need of the Hour
- India has to rebuild on its strengths and common concerns with the Russians.
- Both have to revitalize their earlier agreement on sharing intelligence for a joint strategy on terrorism. Indian and Russian anxieties on terrorism need to converge and bring about some positive outcome.
- India needs to deepen its scientific and technological relations with Russia since a base for this already exists.
- India can use some creative means to build a Russia-India-China (RIC) alliance.
- Needs focus is increasing trade and investment ties between India and Russia.
In October 2016 The Russian President visited India for the 17th bilateral summit between India and Russia.
PM Modi highlighted the “special and privileged strategic partnership” between India and Russia by quoting that, “An old friend is better than two new friends.”
Key Highlights of the Bilateral Summit
Cross Border Terrorism- Condemned unequivocally and sealed a deal on ‘information security’ to counter terrorism, drug trafficking and other illegal cross-border activities.
Defence Sector- Agreement to buy Russia’s most advanced S-400 ‘Triumf’ anti-missile defence system, to manufacture Kamov-226T utility helicopters and four improved Krivak or Talwar class stealth.
Regional Integration and Trade- Emphasize on implementation of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
Infrastructure and Technology- Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to invest in a sub-fund under the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF) of India.
Nuclear Power Project- Modi and Putin both jointed declared the second unit of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (Units 5 and 6).
Russian Largest FDI in India- Russian oil firm Rosneft and United Capital Partners signed an agreement to acquire Essar Energy Holdings Ltd’s refining and retail assets at $10.9 billion, making it Russia’s largest foreign direct investment in India.
A sharp rise in Russia-China defense ties, the assertive foreign policy of a rising China in the IndoPacific, and the China-Pakistan nexus will all encourage India to continue to strengthen ties with Russia. It is clear that India-Russia relations remain vital for both countries amid a changing regional and global security environment.
More will need to be done if the relationship is to play the role both countries clearly expect.∙ With more emphasis on defence deals as well as energy ties in recent times, India tried to ward off the impression that it is tilting towards the United States of America.