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Recently Russia’s foreign minister visited India and Pakistan. During his Pakistan visit, he mentioned that Russia is “open for any cooperation” with Pakistan. The Pakistan officials consider this as Russia’s “blank cheque” in the relationship. Apart from that, Russia also removed few restrictions in the Russia-Pakistan relationship. On the other hand, India Russia relationship is not in the golden days.
Russia’s foreign minister did not meet the Indian PM as the PM was in the election campaign. On the other hand, the US presidential envoy met the PM on next day. Russian foreign minister might come a day late to India or wait one day like the US envoy. But neither occurred.
For the first time in two decades, the annual India-Russia summit got cancelled in 2020. Even the virtual summit was not considered as an option. Some experts also project India’s proximity with the US as the main reason for reduced involvement in the India-Russia relationship. But this is not completely true. Relationship with Russia is a key pillar of India’s foreign policy. Further, India Russia relations are still indispensable for both countries.
Historical relationship between India-Russia
India Russia relations started during the Russian Revolution itself. After India’s independence, it improved further.
- Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru went to Russia in 1955. This is followed by the visit of the First Secretary of the Communist Party to India.
- During that, he mentioned the support of the Soviet Union for India’s sovereignty over the disputed territories of Kashmir and Portuguese coastal enclaves such as Goa. Even after the abrogation of Article 370 Russia still supports India’s claim over Kashmir.
- The USSR agreed to transfer technology to co-produce the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 jet fighter in India in 1962. But the USSR rejected a similar move to China.
- India signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1971 during the Bangladesh liberation war.
Post-Soviet era India-Russia relationship:
During this phase the important development include,
- Russia and India entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1993
- In 2000, the Russian President visited India and underlined the importance of Strategic Partnership. The other important events in this visit are,
- Both countries also signed a “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership”
- Further, India and Russia also institutionalised annual meetings(India-Russia summit). Since then the annual meetings
Major components of Present India-Russia relationship
- Political relations:
- This includes Russia’s support for India’s permanent seat in the UNSC.
- Russia’s support in Kashmir Issue
- Engagement of India and Russia in regional forums like BRICS.
- Economic relations:
- India and Russia both institutionalised CEO’s Forum and agreed to liberalize
business travel. Further, Both countries achieved a bilateral trade of $20 billion and set investment targets of achieving $50 billion by 2025.
- Russian firms showed interests in investing in India especially in construction, major infrastructure projects, make in India projects, smart city projects, etc.
- Indian companies also invest in Russia. Especially in natural resources such as coal, fertilizers, hydrocarbons, minerals, rare earth metals, etc.
- India and Russia both institutionalised CEO’s Forum and agreed to liberalize
- Defence relations:
- Two sides agreed that the Kamov 226 helicopter will be manufactured in India.
- Indian government already moving ahead to purchase the S-400 supersonic air defence systems. This is significant as the US threaten to impose Countering America’s Adversaries through the Sanctions Act on India.
- Anti-terrorism relations:
- Both countries strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and all terrorist “safe havens”.
Civil nuclear energy relations:
- India and Russia jointly developed Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP).
- Both signed agreements on the construction of 12 nuclear power plants in India during the coming decades
- Space relations:
- Both C-DAC and GLONASS signed the agreement for cooperation in technologies based on satellite navigation.
- 2015 was the 40th Anniversary of the launch of India’s first satellite “Aryabhatt” on a Russian launch vehicle ‘Soyuz.’
- Russia also signed an agreement to train Indian astronauts for India’s first manned space mission(Gaganyaan Project)
- Other relations:
- Recently India approved Russian Vaccine Sputnik V under emergency use authorisation.
- Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are also taught in Russian Institutions.
- India extended $1 billion as a line of credit for the development of the Russian Far East.
Challenges in India Russia Relationships
- The rapid expansion of India-US relations: This is one of the most cited reasons for strain in India-Russia relations. The development of India US defence cooperation is rapid since 2008.
- India-US nuclear deal in 2008 facilitated closer India-US relations.
- In 2014 US emerged as the top arms supplier to India by overtaking Russia.
- In 2016, India became a major defence partner of the US.
- Further, India also signed all the Foundational agreements with the US. Such as LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA.
- Due to these developments, Russia changed their decades-old policy and start supplying China with weapon systems like Sukhoi 35 and the S-400 missile defence system.
- Closer proximity of Russia towards China:
- Russia already proposed a Russia-India-China (RIC) forum of foreign ministers. But, there is no major diplomatic success of RIC due to India’s unresolved issues with China.
- China-Russian ties are growing due to their shared interest in opposing the US. The intense geostrategic rivalry between China and the US in the region. Russia which opposes the US joined hands with China. This is evident as Russia joined the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative.
The difference in understanding the Indo-Pacific:
Both India and Russia have a difference of opinion in understanding the concept of the Indo-Pacific. Russia opposes the term Indo-Pacific.
- As the term is primarily a US-led initiative aimed to contain China and Russia.
- The concept undermines ASEAN centrality in the development of the region.
- This will increase the US presence in the region, Further, it will reduce Russia’s involvement as Russia maintained a cordial relationship with Asian countries in the region. For this reason, Russia does not accept the concept of QUAD.
- Instead, Russia supports the concept of Asia Pacific.
- Other reasons include
- Russia’s increased engagement with Pakistan. As Russia involved in few projects in Pakistan, increased its military cooperation by bilateral exercise(Friendship), etc.
- Internal Issue in Russia: Russia at present is facing protests over corruption and State lawlessness in nearly 200 cities across Russia.
Suggestions to improve India-Russia Relations
- Both India and Russia have to identify their strengths and common concerns like developing joint projects in third countries. Such as the involvement of India and Russia in the Rooppur nuclear plant project in Bangladesh.
- Focus on Eurasia: India and Russia have to explore their opportunities in the Eurasian region. India can study the possibility of expanding Russia’s idea of “extensive Eurasian partnership” involving the EAEU(Eurasian Economic Union) and China, India, Pakistan, and Iran.
- India must take advantage of Russia’s capacity in helping India to become self-sufficient in Defence. For example, India’s collaboration with Russia in Brahmos Missile made India to export such missiles to countries like the Philippines. Further, India is also in talks with Thailand for the export of Brahmos.
- India needs to balance its relationship between Russia, China and the US. This is essential after the US conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation(FONOP) in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
- India has to utilise the scientific and technological base in Russia for the development of India’s problems.
In conclusion, though India-Russia relations have reduced to some extent, the recent defence and energy engagement between both the countries along with the US’s FONOP provided an opportunity to build the India-Russia relationship further. Both have to utilise the opportunity, as India and Russia can complement each other in the post-pandemic recovery.