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  • Writer's pictureREET PARIHAR

India -Russia Political Relations in the 21st Century: Critical Analysis


1. Introduction:

“In international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent foes, but only permanent interests”

India-Russia relations are rooted in history, mutual trust, and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is a strategic alliance that has stood the test of time and has the support of both countries' people.

[1]Diplomatic relations between India and Russia began on April 13, 1947, before India gained independence. In the immediate aftermath of independence, India's goal was to achieve economic self-sufficiency through heavy industry investment. The Soviet Union invested in several new businesses, including heavy machine building, mining, energy production, and steel plants. During India's second Five Year Plan, eight of the sixteen heavy industry projects established were aided by the Soviet Union. This included the foundation of the world-famous IIT Bombay.

The signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971 was a watershed moment in India-Soviet Union relations. The Treaty was a manifestation of the two countries' shared goals, as well as a blueprint for strengthening regional and global peace and security.

The 1990s were a tumultuous time for both countries. In 1990, India extended technical credit to the USSR, and in 1991, India extended food credit and a gift of 20,000 tonnes of rice. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India and Russia signed a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993, followed by a bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994.

During President Putin's visit to India in 2000, the partnership took on a new qualitative character, that of a Strategic Partnership. The strategic partnership formalized annual meetings between India's Prime Minister and Russia's President, and these meetings have been held regularly since then. During President Dmitry Medvedev's visit in 2010, the relationship was elevated to the status of a Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership. Since 2000, Twenty-one Annual India-Russia Summits have been held. These have resulted in personal contact and close acceptance between our leaders at the highest levels.

Both countries have established dialogue mechanisms that report to two leaders. The Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological, and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) is co-chaired by India's External Affairs Minister and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, and the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) is co-chaired by both countries' Defense Ministers. These meetings, which identify priorities and review cooperation regularly, are critical platforms for moving our collaboration forward.

2. Political relations

· [2]India-Russia Strategic Partnership

1) On October 3, 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Vladimir Putin signed the "Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership," cementing India-Russia bilateral ties.

2) The Strategic Partnership Treaty, signed in 2000, gave India-Russia relations a new lease on life, restoring them to respectable levels. Both countries recognised the importance of developing multifaceted bilateral cooperation in all areas of defence, energy, space, nuclear, science and technology, and so on. In many ways, India's strategic partnership with Russia has been unique, intense, and substantive since then. The Treaty primarily resulted in the institutionalisation of high-level political interactions through annual bilateral summits – a key feature of the agreement to promote broad collaboration and dynamism in the partnership. So far, the twenty annual bilateral summits between India and Russia have resulted in major agreements and initiatives to strengthen the partnership to new heights.

3) President Putin signed the Executive Order on Awarding PM -Russia's highest state award, The Order of St Andrew the Apostle the First-Called, on April 12, 2019. The order was presented to PM for his distinguished contribution to the development of the India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership and friendly relations between the peoples of both countries.

4) The Annual Summit between India's Prime Minister and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism in India and Russia's strategic partnership. So far, 21 Annual Summits have alternated between India and Russia. The most recent Summit was held in New Delhi on December 6, 2021. 5) While India and Russia each assert their distinct identities in global politics, the strategic partnership has seen close coordination of foreign policy interests on a wide range of international and regional issues. Both countries are convinced that strengthening the Indo-Russian strategic partnership will help them respond to the challenges posed by global changes more effectively. While India and Russia have opposing views on the Indo-Pacific narrative, one cannot deny that both countries recognise the importance of enhancing maritime security and freedom of navigation by universally accepted principles of international law. This includes combating piracy at sea as well as providing humanitarian assistance during natural disasters. The two countries have expressed a strong desire to restore peace and stability. The two countries have expressed a strong desire to see Afghanistan return to peace and stability. The strategic partnership between India and Russia has prioritised Eurasian integration. Russia recognises that India is an important player in its quest for "greater Eurasia" due to its massive market potential, economic growth performance, military strength, and enhanced position in international affairs. 6) The leaders of the two countries also meet regularly at meetings — or on the sidelines of meetings — of various multilateral organisations, such as the BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the Group of 20 (G20). Indeed, Russia was the driving force behind India's admission to the SCO; India became a full member in 2017. One major reason for this was Moscow's desire to prevent China from dominating the organisation, which was shared by the Central Asian states as well. 7) In addition, in 2014, the two sides signed the 'Strategic Vision for Strengthening Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,' and in 2016, they agreed on the 'Partnership for Global Peace and Stability.'

· [3]Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation, August 09, 1971

1) 1955 was a watershed moment in the India-Soviet relationship. That year, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Russia, as did top Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai A. Bulganin. According to Moulik, these state visits resulted in new foreign policies in both countries. India was allowed to maintain its non-aligned status while remaining a close friend of the Soviet Union. This was made possible because the Soviets demanded nothing in return other than friendship. Finally, an impending war with Pakistan compelled India to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union—the first Indian political treaty with another country.

2) [4]President of the Russian Federation H.E. Mr Vladimir Putin paid a working visit to New Delhi on December 6, 2021, at the invitation of Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi, for the 21st India–Russia Annual Summit. The parties reaffirmed their commitment to India and Russia's Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership. They emphasised that, as major powers with shared responsibilities, this vital relationship remains an anchor of global peace and stability. The sides praised India-Russia relations, which cover a wide range of cooperation areas such as politics and strategy, economy, energy, military and security, science and technology, culture, and humanitarian cooperation. They noted that, while traditional areas of cooperation are being strengthened, new growth drivers have resulted in diversification and diversification.

3) Despite the negative effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Leaders praised the sustained momentum in bilateral ties. They acknowledged that the Annual Summit could not be held in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The sides noted with satisfaction the continued intensification of contacts at all levels, including 6 telephonic conversations between the two leaders since the last Summit; visits by the Indian Foreign Minister, Raksha Mantri, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and Minister of Steel; visits by the Russian Foreign Minister and Secretary of Security Council to India; holding of Foreign Office Consultations, India-Russia Strategic Economic Dialogue, and consultations on UN issues.

· Russia-Ukraine war

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, which began about two months ago, is threatening the global order's stability. Russia's grievances against the US and the EU are not new but have existed for the last 20 years. The seeds of this conflict can be traced back to the days when, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) attempted to absorb the states that comprised the former Soviet Union. It should be noted that, despite Russia's objections, NATO expanded in 1997 and then again in 2004, absorbing the states that were once part of the Soviet Union.

In 2005, Putin called the Soviet Union's demise "the greatest disaster of the twentieth century." Since then, Putin has been attempting to reintegrate the former Soviet Union's states into the Russia-sponsored Eurasian Economic Community, later renamed the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015.

1) Russia -China relations: Impact on India

The tense relations between China and Russia with Western nations drew the two countries together and posed a challenge to the world's liberal order, particularly the hegemony of the United States. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is frequently cited as evidence of the world's preference for Eurasia.

Following the 2008 World Financial Crisis, Russia felt the need to strengthen ties with China. After increasing tensions with the Western nations, Russia was forced to develop close ties with China. The strengthening of military, economic, and security ties between the two countries demonstrates this.

[5]Nobody should be surprised by China's refusal to condemn Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. The writing was on the wall when Moscow and Beijing issued a joint statement on February 4 describing their friendship as having "no bounds." Both countries stated unequivocally that they "oppose further enlargement of NATO" and urged it to "abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security, and interests of other countries."

China has refused to call the Russian invasion an "invasion," and has voted against the UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia's actions. The two countries are already trading in local currencies, and this is likely to continue. With Russian banks barred from using SWIFT, Russia and China may collaborate to develop an alternative.

On March 2, 141 countries backed a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia's invasion. Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Syria, and, of course, Russia voted against it, while 35 countries abstained, including China and India. Other resolutions condemning the war have been passed since then, with China and India remaining neutral.

Since India's relations with China are currently in a "very difficult phase" as a result of Beijing's violation of border agreements. The eastern Ladakh border standoff erupted after a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas, and both sides gradually increased their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.

On June 15, 2020, a deadly crash in the Galway Valley heightened tensions.

India is unable to do anything comparable to what China can do to support Russia, though it will almost certainly not join any Western sanctions due to its policy of only adhering to UN sanctions (which cannot be invoked as Russia will veto any such move).

In recent years, the growing kinship between China and Russia has brought the concept of the "Eurasian Order" to the fore. Putin's "pivot to the East" policy proposed a largely (for the time being) rhetorical "Greater Eurasian Partnership" with China, not only as a counter to the West but also to meet China's growing influence in the Eurasian region through the Belt and Road Initiative. In February, the two achieved a new "no forbidden areas" convergence in their relationship while outlining their global ideas on democracy and "power redistribution."

This anti-West alliance of two authoritarian states concerns India, not only because it poses a threat to the existing rules-based global democratic order in which India believes, but also because of the potential impact of Russia joining forces with its two nuclear neighbours. Russia's growing engagement with Pakistan, such as the $2.5 billion natural gas pipeline project signed in 2021 and scheduled to begin next year, along with China-Russia ties and India's growing relationship with the US to counter China in the Indo-Pacific, represent significant points of departure.

2) India’s stance in Russia-Ukraine War:

Unlike Western defence suppliers, Russia is one of India's largest defence suppliers and has been willing to provide platforms such as nuclear submarines. Russia is also supplying S-400 anti-missile defence systems to India. Even though bilateral trade remains below potential, Rosneft's $13 billion investment in Essar in 2016 remains the single-largest FDI in India to date. India requires Russian support for its Eurasian ambitions as well.

[6]India could not have supported both parties at the same time, so it chose to remain neutral. India called for "dialogue," "cessation of violence," and "safety" and "safe exit and return" of Indian nationals in Prime Minister Modi's calls with Presidents Putin and Zelenskyy on February 24 and 26, respectively, as well as Foreign Secretary Shringla's media interaction on February 25.

Following that, India changed its stance, citing the "UN Charter," "international law," and "state sovereignty and territorial integrity." Modi reiterated his call for "conflict resolution" and expressed "deep concern" for the safety and security of Indian students in a phone call with Putin on March 7. In contrast, in a phone call with Zelenskyy the same day, Modi called for a "cessation of violence" and thanked Zelenskyy for Ukraine's assistance in ensuring Indians' safe exit.

Despite a slight shift toward Ukraine, India was able to secure Russia's approval of its "independent" position, as well as American recognition of India's "evolution." In addition, the US described India's relationship with Russia as "distinctive" and "okay."

India's offer to negotiate and secure a peaceful resolution received support from the United States and Ukraine, but not from Russia, which retained control of the narrative. Moscow merely made a statement in welcoming India's stand. Sanctions imposed by the US on Russia will disrupt Russia's defence supplies to India. Sanctions may jeopardize India's exports of S-400 missiles, leasing of Akula class submarines, production of A-203 rifles, and exports of the BrahMos missile.

As per the Ministry of External Affairs

As a result of the conflict, many countries have imposed sanctions on Russia. These are expected to affect the world economy, including supply chain disruption. It is already affecting energy and commodity prices. In consultation with all stakeholders, we are currently analyzing its impact on India-Russia bilateral trade and economic cooperation. Relationships between India and Russia stand on their own.

We have expressed deep concern about the deterioration of the situation and have called for an immediate cessation of violence and the cessation of all hostilities. Our statements to the Security Council and the General Assembly have urged an immediate cessation of hostilities and the safe passage of stranded civilians. We have also highlighted India's humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its neighbours during this time of crisis.

We have reiterated to all parties involved at the highest levels of our leadership that there is no other option but diplomacy and dialogue. We have emphasized to all UN member states that the global order is based on international law, the UN Charter, and respect for states' territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

[7]India-Russia bilateral trade was only $8.1 billion (April 2020-March 2021), which is small in comparison to India's trade with the United States or even the European Union, but their defence (and energy) ties are significant. Russia remains India's largest arms supplier, accounting for roughly 49 per cent of India's arms imports between 2016 and 2020. In 2018, India signed a $5 billion deal to purchase a Russian S-400 missile defence system, putting it in the crosshairs of Washington's Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

India's "Explanation of Vote," on the other hand, is based on "the totality of the evolving situation," and states that the nation's top priority is the evacuation of stranded Indian nationals. At the same time, India has reaffirmed its "commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states," and has dispatched relief and medical supplies to war-torn Ukraine.

The global impact of higher crude oil prices may have a spillover effect in terms of cost-push inflation. The war has also disrupted India's edible oil market, as the country imports more than 90% of its sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine combined.


In international politics, India has always benefited from the leverage that supports a major power like Russia provided.

India has a long history with Russia. Though sentiments have very little place in international relations, India found it hard to forget the Soviet Union's support during difficult periods in Indian histories, such as the East Pakistan crisis. India's relationship with the United States and Europe complicates matters even more. With its two most important strategic partners, the United States and Russia, on a collision course, India finds itself in the unenviable position of having to satisfy both, making India's balancing game between the West and Russia much more difficult. Furthermore, if the West and Russia continue to clash, the Indo-Pacific will be deprioritized by the West, making it much more difficult for India to manage China's ambitions.

India will undoubtedly need to reduce its reliance on Russian arms by increasing domestic production. However, this will not be easy or quick; most experts believe that India will remain dependent on Russian arms for the next few decades. The West will put enormous pressure on India to cut ties with Russia. However, completely disengaging from Russia is not an option because it would limit Russia's options, pushing it even closer to China.

India chose to abstain from voting, but a careful reading of its statement suggests that it went a step further and indirectly requested that Moscow respect international law. Former Indian diplomat JN Misra claims that India has "bad and worse options to choose from."

"It is impossible to tilt both ways at the same time. India has not named any countries, indicating that it will not oppose Moscow. India had to be subtle in choosing a side, which it has done "He continues.

With few signs of an end to the conflict in Ukraine, India will find it difficult to maintain ties with Russia while also protecting its alliance with the US.

[1]EMBASSY OF INDIA, (last visited 10 April 2022). [2]Raghavan, P. S. (2016). India-Russia Strategic Partnership – a Mutual Commitment. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 11(4), 302–307. [3]MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, (last visited 10 April 2022). [4] MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, visited 10 April 2022). [5] MONEY CONTROL, (last visited 10 April 2022). [6] OBSERVER RESEARCHER FOUNDATION, (last visited 19 April 2022). [7]THE DIPLOMAT, (last visited 10 April 2022).

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