India-Russia Relationship have been all weather friends. The relationship, though it has its issues, has scope for more growth.

Background of India-Russia Relations

India and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971 which was the manifestation of shared goals of the two nations as well as a blueprint for the strengthening of regional and global peace and security.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, India and Russia entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993 and a bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994. In 2000 both countries established a Strategic Partnership

India-Russia Relationship Comprehensive Coverage

Key Pillars of relationship

Defence partnership- The defence ties are one of the highly influential aspects of their relationship and rest on 3 features of technology transfer, joint development, marketing & selling and export of equipment. It has provided significant enhancement to India’s indigenous defence manufacturing. Some of the major defence collaboration programs are- The BrahMos, Cruise Missile program, Sukhoi Su- 30, and Tactical Transport Aircraft.

Economic Relations- It is an important pillar of the relations yet there remains a lot of scopes to improve it further. India and Russia are exploring various ways for enhancing bilateral trade.

Energy Security- In the Energy sector Russia has built nuclear reactors in India (kudankulam reactors), adopted a strategic vision in nuclear energy, offered oil, gas, and investment opportunities in the fuel sector of Russia e.g. Sakhalin I, etc.

Both are extending civil nuclear cooperation to 3rd countries, e.g. Bangladesh.

Space technology- India and Russia have a four-decade strong relationship in the field of space. The former Soviet Union launched India’s first two satellites, Aryabhata and Bhaskar. It has provided India Cryogenic technology to build heavy rockets.

International support- Russia has supported India’s bid for permanent seat in UNSC. It has been favoring Indian entry to the Nuclear Supplier Group. Both countries coordinate with each other over various forums including BRICS, SCO, G20, etc.

Cultural Relations- From people-to-people contacts (through programs like ‘Namaste Russia’) to sharing educational brilliance of both the countries through institutes like Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre, both the countries have had good cultural links.

20th India Russia annual summit

This visit saw some notable developments that include:

Credit: India had pledged to extend $1 billion lines of credit for the development of the Russian Far East (Act Far East Policy).

Maritime route: There is also the proposal for the maritime route connecting Chennai and Vladivostok. This is of significance as Vladivostok is a short distance away from Russia’s border with China. It will also increase India’s presence in Indo-Pacific.

Gaganyaan Project: Russia would help train the Indian astronauts for the manned space mission.

Recent downturn in relations: Reasons

India’s Russia relations have remained close but they have lost the intensity of India-Soviet relation. Recently, there has been a definitive decline in India’s Russia Relations.

India’s growing proximity to the United States:

Rapidly expanding ties and growing defence relationship between India and the US and, India joining quadrilateral group led by the US has led to a strategic shift in Russia’s foreign policy. For Russia it has been a period of great hostility with the West, thus pushing it to align with China.

  • Defence partnership
    • India has been recently diversifying its defence relations with the US, Israel, etc. Russia’s share of Indian defense imports fell from 79 percent between 2008-2012 to 62 percent between 2013-2017.
    • India US signed four foundational agreements (Like Logistics agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, etc.), which shows enhanced interoperability between the two militaries. India Russia relation lacks this aspect.
  • Lack of Trade
    • Trade has been one-dimensional i.e. defence based. The trade-in 2017-18 was $10.7 billion, which is far below potential in comparison to India’s trade with China ($89.7 billion), the United States ($74.5 billion).
    • There are a number of issues that hinder India-Russia trade, like, connectivity issues, distance, weak banking links, cumbersome regulations on both sides, and Russia’s restrictive visa regime.

Russia’s changed foreign policy stance

  • Towards Pakistan
    • Russia in 2014 lifted the arms embargo on Pakistan.
    • Russia and Pakistan conducted a military exercise in September 2016.
    • In 2017, a military-technical cooperation agreement was signed which deals with arms supply and weapon development. All these factors raised concerns in India.
  • Towards China
    • Russia has sold advanced military technology to Beijing, 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 between their countries, called the “Power of Siberia” to pump natural gas to China from Russia’s far-east regions which shows increasing collaboration between the two.
  • Towards Taliban
    • Russia is showing an inclination towards the Taliban in Afghanistan while India continues to have concerns about the group.

Steps taken to address the downturn in relations

  • Sochi Informal Summit 2018: The strategic partnership between the two has been elevated into a “special privileged strategic partnership”.
  • Reinforced defence ties:
    • Both countries finalized, Su-400 air defence systems and nuclear-powered submarine (Chakra III) deal, construction of Ka-226 helicopters in India under the Make in India initiative showing the depth of defence relationship.
    • Tri-Services Joint Exercise between Indian and Russian Armed Forces Exercise INDRA- 2017
  • Improving trade relations:
    • In 2017 trade between both countries increased by 20%. Two countries decided to reach USD 30 billion investment goal by 2025. In this direction, India Russia Strategic Economic Dialogue was started in 2018.
    • India participated in the Eastern Economic Forum (2020) which aims to support the economic development of Russia’s resource-rich Far East. Also, India has extended a $1 billion line of credit for the development of this region. Also, the proposal for a maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok has been made.
    • Also, there are talks of the signing of an FTA between Indian and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
  • Strengthening Energy and science & technology cooperation
    • Cooperation in the development of oil in Russia including its arctic shelf and joint development of projects on the shelf of the Pechora and Okhotsk Seas. E.g. Vankorneft and Taas-Yuryakh in Russia and the participation of the PJSC Rosneft oil company in the Essar Oil capital.
    • Also, India voted in favour of a Russian led UN resolution to set up a separate convention on cybercrime.

Way forward

Despite growing divergences in various areas, both sides know the importance of each other in changing, uncertain global environments. The investment in the Far East, which is often neglected given that Russia is seen as a European power in the post-Soviet era, also underlines India’s desire to draw Russia into its strategic forays in the Indo-Pacific.

Also, 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. All these show, that the relations between both are on a stronger trajectory.


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