Indo-Russian Relations
Daily coverage of what makes ties between Delhi & Moscow ever-lasting — even in times of western sanctions.

A New Trajectory for India-Russia Relations

© Grigory SysoyevRussian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo prior to their talks on a sideline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, June 13, 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo prior to their talks on a sideline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, June 13, 2019 - Sputnik India, 1920, 06.01.2024
In his column, Arvind Gupta, Director of the Vivekananda International Foundation, focuses on India-Russia relations, noting the strength and resilience of these ties amidst geopolitical turbulence.
Focusing on the relationship between India and Russia, he outlines the extensive cooperation between the two nations, including in sectors such as energy, defence and trade. He also highlights the strategic autonomy India maintains in its foreign policy, particularly with regard to its relations with Russia.
The upcoming Valdai Club and Vivekananda Foundation conference on 8 January, which Gupta will be attending, provides a platform for him to delve further into these critical international relations and geopolitical issues.

International environment

Currently, global tensions are high and the mechanisms to resolve them have been ineffective. The ongoing Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas wars have exposed the international community’s inability to resolve conflicts and lessen tensions. Most multilateral mechanisms are dysfunctional as the world gets fragmented and polarised along multiple axes. The risk of a wider military conflagration is considerable. Arms control and disarmament mechanisms are non-existent or at a standstill. Global nuclear and missile arsenals are being expanded at a fast pace. The risk of weaponisation of cyberspace and outer space has also increased. The indiscriminate use of sanctions as a weapon causes economic and social disruptions globally.
The unipolar moment that came about after the end of the Cold War has given way to a complex multipolar world in which western hegemony is being challenged increasingly. The international community failed to establish a stable, equal, indivisible security system after the end of the Cold War. In a multipolar world, a sovereign nation, have many options. But there is no guarantee that such a world would necessarily be peaceful and stable. Russia and India, along with other countries, can and should contribute to the evolution of a peaceful, stable multipolar world based on the idea of harmony in diversity, rule of law, cooperation and accommodation in which the security and growth aspirations of all are taken care of.

New trends in bilateral ties

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow from 25 to 29 December 2023 has reaffirmed that India-Russia ties remain healthy despite the current geopolitical turbulence in the world. Jaishankar was received by President Putin, who expressed satisfaction at the state of the relationship and invited Prime Minister Modi to visit Russia. He said that he had kept Prime Minister Modi informed about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and has studied the proposals made by India. Conveying a message of PM Modi to President Putin, Mr. Jaishankar described the relationship between India as “very strong, very steady” due to the convergence of strategic interests. The two foreign ministers exchanged views on global and regional issues.
As the international environment changes, Russia and India are taking steps to further deepen their “special and privileged strategic partnership” set up in 2010. Their cooperation includes a wide array of subjects including energy, defence and security, trade and investment, education and culture, science and technology, global and regional issues, connectivity, to name a few. A strong institutional framework for bilateral exchanges has been set up. This includes regular summit-level meetings and interactions through the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Economic and Technical Cooperation as well as the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation. Several specialised working groups are functioning. The latest innovation is the setting up of a “2 plus 2” mechanism involving defence and foreign ministers of both sides. The inaugural meeting of the group was held in Delhi in 2021. The two countries also engage with each other in the multilateral format of SCO, BRICS, RIC, G20, and the UN. India has also begun a discussion on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the Eurasian Economic Union.
As a result of these measures, bilateral ties have grown stronger. Two-way trade between is set to cross USD 50 billion in 2023-24. Russia is now India’s fourth-largest trading partner. Both sides have set a target of bilateral investment of USD 50 bn by 2025. Russia has emerged as a top supplier of crude oil to India, particularly since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. India is a major supplier of pharmaceuticals to Russia. Russia is building six nuclear power plants in India, two of which have already been commissioned, and the other two are nearing completion.
Defence cooperation has been a key pillar of India-Russia ties for decades. The relationship is changing from being a buyer-seller type to becoming a partnership in joint production and co-development of military hardware. Presently, India is producing SU30 MKI fighter aircraft and T90 tanks in India under Russian licenses. Two Indo-Russian joint ventures are co-producing Brahmos cruise missiles and AK203 rifles. Brahmos missiles are also being exported to third countries. India has procured the S-400 missile defence system from Russia despite US pressure. Russian companies are looking to participate in India’s ambitious Make in India programme aimed at enhancing the production of military hardware indigenously. Russia has also started exporting fertilisers to India, thus strengthening India’s food security. These are a few examples of successful India Russia cooperation in recent years.
It is noteworthy that India’s ties with Russia have grown steadily despite the Western sanctions on Russia. Exercising its strategic autonomy, India, to the West’s disappointment, refrained from openly criticizing Russian military actions in Ukraine. Instead, Prime Minister Modi conveyed to President Putin that this “should not be in era of wars” and that the conflicts should be resolved through peaceful means. Russia has shown appreciation for the Indian position. President Putin publically praised PM Modi for his leadership in ensuring a balanced G20 Leaders’ declaration in which Russia was not criticised.
As Russia came under sanctions, India stepped up its purchases of Russian crude oil. India was criticised heavily by western countries. Had Russian oil been taken off the global market, global oil prices would have skyrocketed. Following an independent foreign policy, India has continued buying Russian oil. This has had a triple effect: the Indian economy has benefitted from relatively cheaper Russian oil; the Russian economy was able to survive the Western sanctions, and global oil prices remained stable thereby protecting the world from a bout of inflation
India and Russia have a long tradition of cooperation in science and technology, particularly in space and defence. Russia is cooperating with India on India’s human spaceflight programme, Gaganyaan. High technology cooperation between the two countries has a good potential. India is now a major technological power in the world. Both India and Russia have launched major programmes in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. Projects of a commercial and strategic nature can be developed in areas of emerging technologies. India can also benefit by sourcing critical minerals from Russia needed for making a transition to the era of electric vehicles.
In 2019, India formulated its Act Far East policy to focus on Russia’s resource-rich and relatively underdeveloped Far East region. The two countries decided to build maritime connectivity between Chennai and Vladivostok, passing through the Indian and Pacific Oceans. India announced a soft credit line of USD 1 billion to encourage Indian investments in Russia’s Far East. Indian investments in Russia’s Far East will lessen Russia’s anxieties about India’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific.
Russia is a major player in the Arctic, having about 5600 km long coastline along the North Sea Route which has opened up for summer passage due to the thawing of the Arctic Sea on account of global warming. Although the Arctic is geopolitically a sensitive region, India cannot ignore this area. India announced an Artic policy in 2022. Russia can be an important partner in the implementation of India’s Arctic policy.
Despite these positive developments in bilateral relations, it must be acknowledged that the potential of India-Russia ties has remained underdeveloped due to a lack of connectivity between the two countries. In this regard, the importance of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which would connect India with Russia through Iran, cannot be overestimated. The project, begun over 20 years ago, is likely to be formally launched soon. This connectivity will have major beneficial impact on India Russia trade ties. India has proposed linking up Chabahar port in Iran, where it has some investments, with the INSTC.
© Photo : Russian MFARussia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister of External Affairs of India Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar hold talks on the margins of the 18th East Asia Summit.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister of External Affairs of India Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar hold talks on the margins of the 18th East Asia Summit. - Sputnik India, 1920, 06.01.2024
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister of External Affairs of India Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar hold talks on the margins of the 18th East Asia Summit.


Although both sides have managed the current geopolitical turbulence reasonably well, they should remain alert to the fact that the geopolitical factors are uncertain and can have an unexpected impact on bilateral relations. A sound appreciation of each other’s security concerns is needed. India has deep strategic interests but also security vulnerabilities in Eurasia as well as in the vast Indo-Pacific region. Russian security is closely tied up with Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Eurasian regions. Both countries are affected by issues of terrorism, radicalisation and instability in Afghanistan.
After the rejoiment of Crimea in 2014 and the start of the special military operation in Ukraine in 2022, Russia is now unmistakably pivoting towards the east. As the latest Russian foreign policy concept shows, the salience of China and India in Russian foreign policy has increased while its relations with the US and Europe have been downgraded.
After the India-China clashes in Eastern Ladakh in the Galwan region in 2020, India’s ties with China have been adversely impacted. This has happened at a time when Russia-China ties have become more strategic particularly after the Ukraine conflict. Thus, Russia and India have a different lens through which they perceive China, a major Eurasian power. Likewise, Russia and China have different perceptions about the US and the West in general.
In Russian strategic circles, there are some anxieties about the perceived Indian ‘tilt’ towards the West. The fact is that India follows an independent foreign policy guided by the considerations of strategic autonomy. India’s participation in the Quad, a grouping of the US, Japan, Australia, and India in the Indo-Pacific region, is seen in Russia with anxiety. Likewise, Russia’s growing strategic closeness with China and Pakistan cause some concern in India. Both sides need to have a proper assessment of each other’s strategic priorities and concerns.
© PhotoRussian President Vladimir Putin meets Indian EAM Jaishankar.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Indian EAM Jaishankar. - Sputnik India, 1920, 06.01.2024
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Indian EAM Jaishankar.

Way forward

To give further impetus to bilateral ties, it is important that the tradition of annual summits between the two top leaders which got interrupted in 2022 is restored. There are some structural issues the two sides need to address to take their ties to a new level.
Russia and India need to assure each other that their relations with third countries do not impact bilateral relations adversely. It is very important to have regular contacts at highest levels to understand each other’s positions on key global and regional issues. India has called for a reformed multilateralism and democratisation of the UN system. Both countries can cooperate in this vital area. India is also actively taking up the issues of Global South. The expansion of BRICS into BRICS plus offers opportunity to them to shape organisation in a new environment. Likewise, India and Russia can coordinate their positions in SCO and G20.
Following the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia, payment mechanisms to settle trade transactions have been found to be inadequate. Although India has purchased large quantities of Russian oil, stable payment mechanisms have yet to be formulated. This issue must be addressed urgently and creatively so that bilateral ties are not affected adversely. Similarly, the two sides should conclude a bilateral investment protection treaty at the earliest to facilitate investments. Non-tariff barriers to trade should also be removed urgently. The relationship between their banks and insurance companies are inadequate and underdeveloped. These issues need to be resolved to buttress the trade and economic potential of the two sides.
Russian friends should appreciate of how much India has changed in the last ten years. Indian economy, among the fastest growing economies in the world, is growing at over 7 percent per annum. Its GDP is approaching the USD 4 trillion level. Joining a select group of spacefaring nations, it has landed a rover near the southern pole of the moon. It has emerged as a leading nation in the use of digital technologies for payment systems. It is the largest supplier of vaccines in the world. It has emerged as a major welfare state in the world with 800 million people being provided food grains free of cost up to 2029. A third of the Indian population is today covered by a relatively cheap health insurance policy. India’s experience of using technology in development offers a model for the global South. India is sharing its experience with other countries of the global south. This will be very useful in the making of a multipolar world.
India has an ambitious target of installing 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030. Presently it has a combined renewable energy installed capacity of 180 GW, which includes 44.5 GW of wind power and 72.3 GW of solar power. India took lead in the setting up of International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015, which now has 110 members and a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) with 39 members. Both ISA and CDRI focus on dealing with climate change and its impact. India’s per capita emissions of greenhouse gases are much below the global average level. Indian advances in emerging technologies and clean and green energy offer opportunities for Russia and India to explore cooperation in emerging areas. India and Russia have signed new long-term programmes of cooperation in defence as well as in Science and Technology. Thus, a framework exists to explore new areas of cooperation. It will be important to involve the private sector, academics, think tanks, and public organisations in these areas.
It is necessary to strengthen people-to-people contacts between the two countries, particularly among the youth. Russia has had a rich tradition of studies in Indology. This must be revived. Russian academics could pay greater attention to India’s 5000 years old civilisation going back to the Indus-Saraswati civilisation. The vast treasure house of Indian strategic thoughts, culture and civilisation needs to be approached from a non-western, non-colonial lens. Likewise, Indian institutions of learning should pay a greater attention to study Russia, its history, culture and civilisation. There ought to be joint programmes of research, studies and dissemination amongst the experts of both sides. Indian academics have been regularly participating in high-level conferences organised by prominent think tanks like the Valdai Discussion Club. Such contacts should be expanded.
At its G20 presidency, India put forward the civilisational idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or a vision of One Planet, One World and One Future. Such a vision recognises multiplicity, plurality and diversity in the world, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam envisions a world of mutual cooperation, accommodation, caring and sharing, respect for nature, environment and biodiversity. A multipolar world requires such an inclusive vision. Otherwise, there will be chaos. Both India and Russia are positioning themselves as civilisational states and are in a unique position to contribute to the emergence of a harmonious, peaceful and stable multipolar world.
*The writer is the Director of Delhi based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation.
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