This article deals with ‘India-Russia Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is an important pillar of the GS-2 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
History of Relations
- In the early 19th century, the Russian Tsar expanded to Central Asia. Britishers perceived this as a threat to British Indian Empire. To stop Russian advancement, they started Anglo-Afghan wars, aiming to make Afghanistan a buffer between the Russian and British Empire. This whole episode culminated with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, under which Russians accepted the British as the paramount power in Afghanistan.
Initial years after Indian Independence
- India adopted the policy of non-alignment.
- Till 1953, when Stalin was alive, he wasn’t very keen on India. Stalin did not appreciate the non-aligned posturing of India.
- After the death of Stalin, Indians and Soviet interests started to converge on the following issues
- Indian protest at the UN about extending the Korean War north of the 38th parallel.
- Indian support for the People’s Republic of China to enter the UN.
- Finally, the formation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact in 1955 under the leadership of the USA was perceived by India as an attempt by the US to encircle India. India also condemned American support to Pakistan with arms. These events brought India closer to USSR. These events brought India closer to USSR.
Relations during 1962 War
- Nikita Khrushchev favoured the improvement of ties with the US, while Mao tried to criticize it and promote his image as the sole representative of revolutionary movements. This difference between the Soviets and China led to the Soviets favouring India during the 1962 Chinese aggression.
Relations during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965
- After 1962, India adopted the path of defence modernization. The Soviets decided to use it as an opportunity to build ties with India before any western country could fill this strategic space and emerged as the topmost defence supplier for India by the late 1960s.
- In the 1965 Indo-Pak war, India appreciated the role of the Soviets during mediation through the Tashkent Declaration.
Relations post 1965 and leading up to War of 1971
- In the 1970s, the US explored options of undertaking rapprochements with China and India began to fear a Beijing-Washington-Islamabad axis.
- India acted hastily. Since 1969, India and the USSR negotiated a diplomatic and strategic engagement. India speeded up the negotiations and, in 1971, concluded a twenty-year ‘India-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship‘ with the clause of Collective Security (i.e. if India is attacked, Soviet Union will come to help & vice versa). Shipments of arms began to arrive from Russia to India. 2021 marks the 50 years of the signing of the Indonesia-Soviet Treaty.
- USSR has sided with India on the Kashmir issue and vetoed all resolutions against India in UNSC.
Initial hiccups in the post-fall of the USSR
After the Cold War ended, the initial years of Boris Yeltsin’s rule were not smooth. Due to the fall of the USSR, both India and Russia were attracted towards the west without any convergence. During this period
- Rupees-Rouble Trade suffered as the value of Rouble declined steeply. In response, Russia asked India to pay in Dollars.
- Russia denied the cryogenic engine under USA pressure due to MTCR.
- Militancy in Chechnya and Kashmir presented a problem to both nations.
End of the 1990s
- Nuclear Tests of 1998 brought India Russia closer.
- At that time, the world was divided into two groups.
- USA, Japan and EU: placed sanctions on India.
- Russia: Supported India arguing that India is surrounded by China & Pakistan & had the right to protect using Nuclear deterrence.
Putin’s Visit in 2010
- During this visit, India and Russia signed a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership” (SPSP).
- One of the critical drivers for this move was India’s assertion for a multipolar world. The resurgence of Russia in the world to project itself as an independent pole in the international system suits India as it will prevent any form of unipolar assertion by either the US or China.
- Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is placed permanently and has been an outlet of Russia to the Mediterranean Sea. Although Western countries placed sanctions on Russia due to Russian expansionist policy, India supported the Russian decision.
India and Russia are presently collaborating on the following projects
- International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC)
- BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
- S-400 Triumf Air Defence Systems
- Joint development of Kamov-226 helicopters
- Development of Far East Russia
- Sputnik – V vaccine against Corona developed by Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology was used by India.
Convergence of Interests
Russia needs India
- To bypass western sanctions, Indian help is required.
- Act as a hedge against forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) driven by the US & EU.
- India is the market for the Defence Industry of Russia.
- India is a significant market for oil.
India needs Russia
- To secure energy supply at a cost-effective price.
- To get cutting edge defence technology (no country provide its new technology).
- Russia is a good market for Indian pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy products etc.
- Russian Veto at UN matters for India.
India-Russia Economic Cooperation
- Indo-Russian trade flourished during the Cold War based on the Rupee-Rouble agreement. However, the foundation of this agreement was dismantled in 1992, which led to a decline in trade.
- Annual Indo-Russian trade is $8.1 billion (2021). The target is to increase it to $30 Billion in a decade.
- ONGC Videsh has invested $5 billion in Sakhalin I project in Siberia and Imperial Energy Ltd.
- Russia has developed Kudankulam nuclear energy project (1000 MW).
- India and Russia are also in the advanced stages of talks of signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Indian and Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Problems in trade with Russia
- There are no direct overland trade routes possible today, though the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC) will try to establish that connectivity.
- Supreme Court in 2012 declared 2G licenses as null and void after Russian AFK Sistema had teamed up with Shyam Telecom. It sent negative sentiments in Russian business houses.
- Custom clearances and inspections are complex & time-consuming.
- Russian importer needs to get a license to import. Russian businessmen demand Indian exporters to pay for these charges.
- Product-specific approvals are required.
- Banking & finance issues due to strict norms in Current Account & Capital Account convertibility.
- Defence Cooperation is more important than economic cooperation. India is going for massive weaponization, and Russia is the most crucial ally in this regard as 2/3rd of Indian military hardware comes from Russia.
- Following weapons of India are of Russian origin
1 . IAF
- 32 out of 41 fighter Indian Air Force squadrons are Russian. These include
- MIG 21,23,27 and 29
- Sukhoi 30- MKI
- New Deals have been signed for the following systems
- Joint Production of Kamov -226 Helicopter
- India has started receiving deliveries of S-400 Air Defence Systems
- T-72 & T-90 constitute 60% of 4168 battle tanks .
- Indian army personnel will use AK-203, and a joint production facility to manufacture more than 600,000 Kalashnikov rifles will be set up in Korwa.
- INS Vikramaditya (Gorshkov:) Aircraft Carrier
- Akula II class (INS Chakra): Nuclear Submarine
- India and Russia conduct Joint Armed exercises known as INDRA.
- Even after increased bonhomie with the US, the Indian government has already declared that Russia is India’s primary defence supplier.
Defence relations are changing
- India is trying to diversify its arsenal because dependence on one nation in defence is a strategic liability. MMRCA (Rafale) Deal with France vouches for that.
- Russia is also trying to diversify its relations in response to the Indian position & is engaging with Pakistan to sell weapons.
Issues in Indo-Russian Defence Relations
- CAATSA, i.e., Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act of US, has the provision of Sanctions against American adversaries if they are doing trade with them. These adversaries include Russia, Iran and North Korea. It is presenting difficulty in payments.
- Space cooperation between two countries goes back four decades. 2015 marked the 40th anniversary of India’s first satellite “Aryabhatta” on a Russian ( USSR) launch vehicle ‘Soyuz.’
- In 1984, Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma visited space in the Soyuz T-10, an issue of great political prestige for India.
- After the fall of the USSR, relations deteriorated for some time. In 1992, Russia denied providing cryogenic rocket engines to India as a non-signatory to MTCR. The sudden suspension of the deal came as a severe setback to the Indian space program. But relations have been stabilized again. Various MOUs have been signed between ROSCOSMOS and ISRO since then.
- Earlier, India was using GLONASS as an alternate to US-controlled GPS.
- Russia is an energy supplier, while India has a huge energy demand. As India is a net importer of energy, Russia is in a strategic position to cooperate.
- The former Soviet Union played a significant role in building India’s energy sector in the following way
- Developing tens of hydropower stations
- Developing India’s coal industry
- Finding oil in Indian soil
- Helping in setting up India’s energy major ONGC.
- India has invested
- $5 billion in the Sakhalin-1 project, controlling 20 per cent stakes in the venture.
- Purchased Imperial Energy, a London-listed oil major in the Tomsk region.
- India is also interested in the Timon Pechora basin and Vankor in East Siberia.
- Both India and Russia are extending civil nuclear cooperation to 3rd countries, e.g. Bangladesh.
Indo-Russian Cooperation to develop Russia’s the Far East
- India participated in the 5th Eastern Economic Forum (2020), which aims to support the economic development of Russia’s resource-rich the Far East.
- India has unveiled the “Act Far East” policy to boost India’s engagement with Russia’s Far East region.
- India has extended a $1 billion line of credit for the development of this region.
- India has proposed developing a maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok to bypass Europe to reach Russia. This will reduce the time for cargo to reach Russia to 24 days from the current 40 days.
- Several Indian companies have been successfully set up in the Russian Far East region, such as KGK in Vladivostok in the field of diamond cutting and Tata Power in Kamchatka in coal mining.
- Russia has supported India’s bid for a permanent seat in UNSC.
- Russia has been favouring Indian entry to the Nuclear Supplier Group.
- Both countries are on the same page regarding the reform of multilateral institutions like IMF and the World Bank.
- Both countries are a member of important international organizations like
- Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
People to People Cooperation
- Programs like ‘Namaste Russia’ have been run in Russia.
- Institutes like Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre, both the countries have had good cultural links.
Downturn in Relations
- During the Cold War, defence ties were the most important elements of our relationship. In the post-Cold War era, the US, France and Israel have emerged as direct competitors to Russia in providing defence supplies to India. Russian share in India’s defence imports has decreased from 79% (2008) to 62% (2017).
- India’s growing proximity to the United States: Rapidly expanding ties and growing defence relationship between India and the US corroborated by the fact like joining Quad led by the USA, signing of logistic agreements like BECA, LEMOA, COMCASA etc. with the US has impacted the India-Russia Relations.
- One dimensional trade: Trade has been one-dimensional, i.e. defence based. The trade between India and Russia in 2017-18 was $11 billion, which is far below potential.
- Russian leaning towards China: Russia has sold advanced military technology to Beijing and endorsed China’s One Belt One Road. There has also been concern about Moscow leaning toward Beijing in forums like the BRICS. Also, China and Russia inaugurated the first cross-border pipeline to China from Russia’s far-east regions. Russia accounted for 77% of Chinese arms imports in 2016-2020.
- Increasing bonhomie between Russia and Pakistan: In 2014, Russia lifted the arms embargo on Pakistan and is the second-largest weapons supplier to Pakistan, accounting for 6.6% of its arms imports.
- Issues wrt Taliban: Russia showing an inclination towards Taliban in Afghanistan while India continues to have concerns about the group. Hence, India and Russia have divergent interests in Afghanistan.
- Issues with Quad: Russia is critical towards the concept of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and has termed it as Asian NATO designed to contain China and Russia.
Steps taken to address this
- Despite the threat of US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India has remained firm on buying the S-400 Triumf air defence missiles system.
- Reinforcement of Defence Ties: India has finalized the following defence deals with Russia in recent times
- Joint production of Kamov-226 helicopters.
- S-400 Air Defence System
- Nuclear-powered submarine (Chakra III)
- AK-203 Guns
- INDRA upgraded to Tri-Services Joint Exercises.
- Improving trade relations: In 2017, trade between countries increased by 20%. Two countries decided to reach the $30 billion investment goal by 2025.
- Indian Prime Minister participated in the Eastern Economic Forum of 2020 and announced to make substantial investments in Far East Russia.
- Indian Defence Minister undertook a trip to Russia for its ‘Victory Day’ parade even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- India and Russia are developing the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to address connectivity issues.
Is Russia still important?
- Russia is a time-tested friend who has helped India on numerous occasions earlier. Increasing Russo-Pak Ties is just a symbolic gesture by Russia to tell India that they can find friends.
- Russian Defence partnership is important because they give Transfer of Technology in cutting edge technology which other countries including the US willn’t offer. In the US, all the defence system manufacturing is under private companies, while in Russia, they are state-controlled. Hence, the way in which Russia can help by supplying arms to set diplomatic relations on the right track can be done by the US (INS Vikramaditya, Nuclear Subs, Sukhoi, etc. )
- Along with that, joint production deals in high-end products like Kamov Helicopters, Brahmos Missiles etc., matter to India if it wants to develop the domestic defence industry. US and western powers never agree to such agreements.
- In Civil Nuclear Aspects, only Russia has given the best deals, like in Kundankulam. Other nations care too much about financial aspects and want to increase profits.
- If India wants to book its seat in UNSC, Russian support is critical.
- On various multilateral forums, Russia and India share space. BRICS & SCO are the most important.
- Russia has significant energy resources, and India needs Russia to satisfy its hunger for energy.
- Overall, as mentioned by PM Modi, Russia remains our principal Defence Partner. About 70 per cent of our weapons and equipment are of Russian or Soviet origin.
- Military Exercise with Pakistan should not be seen from a narrow perspective. In the age of Realpolitik, every nation wants to have maximum manoeuver space. India conducts military exercises with China too.
=> Overall, it can be concluded that, as Modi said in his joint statement (2016 meet) Old friend is better than two new friends, India shouldn’t abandon Russia because of what Russia can provide, no other nation in the world can do that. India should diversify its defence partnership, but Russia should remain India’s topmost priority, who was always there when India needed.