[Burning Issue] India-Russia Relations- “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”


On October 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin came to hold the India-Russia annual summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi


  •  The friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time, and that the ties would continue to scale new heights. Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space.
  • Though the two nations have had a longstanding partnership, it has been passing through a turbulent phase even as this relationship was elevated to Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in 2010.

Russia needs India as:

  • A market for its goods to bypass Western sanctions imposed after its power push in Ukraine.
  • The forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership driven by the US will also force Russia to eye markets beyond Europe. India is a natural partner.
  • Despite its renewed friendship with China, Russia will soon find itself in competition with it as Beijing regards itself as the new G2 along with the US.
  • India can help provide the multi-polarity that Russia fiercely seeks.
  • Even as India is diversifying its defense trade partners, Russia still dominates the Indian defense inventory to the tune of about 70 per cent.

India needs Russia because

  • It can meet its abundant energy requirements at a cost-effective price.
  • Despite expanding its defence purchases from the US, Israel and Europe, India still needs to collaborate with Russia to master future technology including for space.
  • It improves India’s bargaining power when it negotiates arms sales with the West.
  • Russia can be a major market for Indian industry such as pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy Products, bovine meat and frozen seafood.
  • Geopolitically, Russia continues to be a balancing force against any designs China and Pakistan may have in our region.
  • Russia remains the only partner that is still willing to give India critical technologies, such as a nuclear submarine.

Economic Ties

  • Russia-India trade has not grown to great heights despite the encouragement of both states.
  • Recently India and Russia decided to institutionalize the CEO’s Forum and agreed to liberalize business travel which will help boost bilateral trade  Russia sees India – one of the fastest growing economies in the world – as a country that could alleviate Russia’s economic problems.
  • Make in India initiative would welcome Russian companies from the public and private sectors.
  • Russian firms have shown a willingness to invest in India in construction, major infrastructure projects such as dedicated freight corridors and industrial clusters, smart cities, and engineering services, sharing technologies and skills.
  • Indian companies are exploring major investment options in Russia, especially in natural resources∙ such as coal, fertilizers, hydrocarbons, minerals, and rare earth metals Trade and investment relations are not up to the mark and this needs improvements.

Energy Ties

  • According to the International Energy Agency, India will cross Japan as the world’s third largest oil user this year, and is expected to have the highest rate of growth of crude demand globally through 2040.
  • India has sought to establish a strong, long-term energy partnership with Russia. While some important deals like the Sakhalin oil and gas project have been a success.
  • The sale of a 98% stake in Essar Oil to a consortium led by Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft is significant step in the process of deleveraging the balance sheets of Indian corporate.
  • The Russia-India investments in the oil and gas sector and exports to third countries need to be energised.
  • Russia is an important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and it recognizes India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record.
  • Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is being built in India with Russian cooperation.
  • The Rooppur project is the first initiative under an Indo-Russian deal to undertake atomic energy projects in third countries and it will also be the first time Indian firms will take part in such a project abroad.

Political Ties

  • New Delhi needs Moscow’s support in the former’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council
  • The Russians have backed the Indian position on Kashmir.
  • India and Russia are engaged in several multilateral efforts that are greatly favoured by Russia such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
  • Annual Summit meeting is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism under the Strategic Partnership

Defence Ties

  • India-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved from a simple buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems. Eg. BrahMos Missile System.
  • The two countries also hold exchanges and training exercises between their armed forces annually. Eg. Peace Mission 2018 was held in Chebarkul, Russia.
  • Indian government recently announced the purchase of five S-400 supersonic air defense systems from Russia, costing around $6 billion.
  • Recent defense agreements have sent a strong message that New Delhi continues to view relations with Moscow an indispensible element of India’s foreign policy.
  • India and Russia agreed to strengthen the defense partnership in line with the “Make in India” program, thereby developing a strong defense manufacturing base in India
  • The boost to defense engagement will also help India contain the growing engagement between Russia and Pakistan.

Space Cooperation  

  • India-Russia cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of outer space dates back to about four decades.
  • 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of India’s first satellite “Aryabhatt” on a Russian launch vehicle ‘Soyuz.’
  •  In June 2015, the space agencies have signed a MoU on expansion of cooperation in the field of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.
  • An agreement was signed between C-DAC and GLONASS for cooperation in technologies based on satellite navigation.

Issues of terrorism  

  • Counterterrorism is another area where both countries find a convergence of interest. Both countries strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms, stressing the need for an effective∙ global effort in dealing with the terrorist menace.
  • They also called for the elimination, once and for all, of all terrorist “safe havens,” presumably referring to Pakistan.
  • India and Russia also share concerns about the aggravation of the security situation in Afghanistan, including along its borders.
  • India openly shared Russia’s concerns over developments in Syria.
  • India’s stance on Syria will certainly help cement its ties with Russia countering the earlier feeling that India was not coming forward to support Russia in difficult times.

Cultural Cooperation  

  • There is a strong tradition of Indian studies in Russia. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions.
  • There is general interest among Russian people in Indian dance, music, yoga and Ayurveda.
  • There are regular cultural initiatives to promote people-to-people contacts between India and Russia.
  • The President of India inaugurated the Year of Indian Culture ‘Namaste Russia’ in Moscow on 10 May 2015.

 Russia-China-Pakistan Nexus and its impact on India-

  • Even as India is trying to stabilise its defence ties with Russia, there are growing concerns in New Delhi about Russia’s increasing tilt towards Pakistan as it seeks to curry favour with China.
  • Moscow had historically supported New Delhi at the UNSC by repeatedly vetoing resolutions on the Kashmir issue. Today, however, there is a change in how Moscow views its regional priorities in South Asia.
  • In a significant development, the joint declaration issued at the end of the first-ever six-nation Speaker’s Conference in Islamabad held in December 2017 supported Pakistani line on Kashmir.
  • This declaration signed by Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey underscored that “for ensuring global and regional peace and stability, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir needs peaceful resolution by Pakistan and India in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.”
  • During his visit to New Delhi last year, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had publicly called on India to join China’s Belt and Road initiative and hoped that New Delhi will find a way out to benefit from the mega connectivity project without sacrificing its position on the issues flagged by it.
  • Sino-Russian relationship has grown to an extent where the two are now participating in joint military exercises such as the recently concluded, Vostok-2018, underscoring the rapidly evolving nature of this relationship and a fluid global strategic environment. Both are now more unified than ever in posing a challenge to the US-led global order.
  • New Delhi has long maintained that it needs a close relationship with Moscow so that the Beijing-Moscow relationship could be dented. But India’s Russia outreach seems to have had a rather insignificant impact so far on the Russia-China dynamic.
  • Russia is also reaching out to Pakistan despite Indian reservations and is changing its tune on the Afghanistan issue. It is now a strong votary of negotiating with the Taliban and has given short shrift to Indian reservations in this regard.

Strain in the relationship 

India, of course, has a long-standing relationship with Russia but that is undergoing a shift in light of rapidly evolving geopolitical realities.

  • The first concerns the rapidly expanding ties between India and USA, which started with the India-US nuclear deal in 2008.
  • The second concerns the growing defence relationship between India and the USA.
  • Russia’s decision to supply Pakistan with the Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters has alarmed the Indian defence establishment.
  • The Russia-Pakistan joint exercises raise many questions
  • India having its own military exercises with the U.S. and has signed logistics agreements which can eventually give the U.S. access to Indian naval bases.
  • Russia had proposed a Russia-India-China (RIC) forum. India is hesitant about this because of the unresolved issues with China.

The need of the Hour

  • As India resets its engagement with China and as Russia adjusts to its growing isolation in the western world, time has come for renewed Indo-Russian engagement.
  • For a relationship that largely relies on defence and where the economic underpinnings are lagging, the need of the hour should be to have candid conversations about the current state of play in the relationship.
  • India should pursue the proposed Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union and seek to play a more active role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as a member.
  • Need to give impetus to St. Petersburg declaration, there was a reference to India and Russia setting up an “energy corridor”.

HIGHLIGHTS of the 19th Indo-Russian annual bilateral summit

S-400 Triumf Surface to Air Missiles (SAM)

  • Russia providing state of the art surface to air missile system, S-400 Triumf, to India has been the biggest takeaway. Besides the S-400 Triumf deal, India and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing military cooperation.

Space Exploration

  • A crucial MoU was signed between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Federal Space Agency of Russia ‘ROSCOSMOS’ with respect to joint activities in the field of human spaceflight programme Gaganyaan.
  • Russia has also agreed to set up data collection ground stations for India’s recently developed navigation system NaVIC.
  • The two sides also agreed to develop cooperation on BRICS remote sensing satellite constellation.

Cochin Shipyard pact with Russia to boost water transport

  • India’s Cochin Shipyard signed a pact with Russian firm United Shipbuilding Corporation to boost water transport. As per the pact, the Russian shipbuilding company will provide the technical support to develop advanced vessels suitable for inland waterways and coastal transportation.


  • A memorandum of cooperation (MoC) signed between the Ministry of Railways and the Russian Railways.
  • It includes the implementation of a ‘speed-upgradation project’ in the Nagpur-Secunderabad section, installation of a single traffic-control centre for efficient management of rail traffic at the local level, efficient practices in freight and cargo operations, development of multi-modal terminals and a mutual exchange of the advanced technologies used by the two countries.
  • An additional MoU was also signed between the two countries for the cooperation in transport education & to organise educational transport seminars jointly.


  • The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Indian Potash Ltd and producers of phosphate-containing fertilisers PhosAgro announced joint investments in mineral fertiliser production in Russia and India.
  • As per the agreement, PhosAgro has agreed to supply a maximum of 2 million tonne (MT) during 2019-2021 which is estimated to have a potential value of $1 billion.


  • The two countries reviewed the progress on the achievement of the objective to increase inter-depending investment to $30 billion by the year 2025.
  • Russia and India have signed the MoU between National Small Industries Corporation of India and the Russian Small and Medium Business Corporation for boosting the economies through cooperation at a micro level.
  • President Putin invited India to invest in the Russian Far Eastern region with India welcoming the decision to open an office of the Far East Agency in Mumbai.
  • The Indian delegation, participated in the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September 2018.

Agreement on consultation between the foreign ministries of Russia and India

  • A ‘Protocol for Consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs (India)’ was signed for the period 2019-2023. This was undertaken with an effort to execute a comprehensive policy vis-a-vis international relations of the two countries.


India-Russia relationship is passing through an interesting phase. There are bilateral challenges that need to be overcome, but the global environment has provided opportunities to New Delhi and Moscow to re-calibrate their ties. It is up to the political leadership of the two nations to rise to the occasion.

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