Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Russia-China Axis


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : China-Russia axis and implications on India

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China this month, as well as the Ukraine crisis, have turned the spotlight on Russia’s relations with China.

News: China-factor in Ukraine Crisis

  • Many in the west have blamed the Russia-China axis for motivating Moscow’s recent moves and ensuring it will not be completely isolated in the face of western sanctions.
  • At the same time, Beijing has found itself walking a tightrope in its response and has so far stopped short of endorsing Russia’s actions.

Russia-China Relations: A backgrounder

  • Relations between China and the former Soviet Union were frosty, marked by mistrust and doctrinal differences for most of the Cold War decades.
  • The change came in 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to land in Beijing since Nikita Khrushchev in 1958.
  1. Economic dependency: A decade after the Soviet Union broke up, disappointed and humiliated and deep in economic crisis, Russia under Putin’s first presidency turned to China under President Jiang Zemin.
  2. Neighborhood: In 2001, the two countries signed the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, paving the way for expanding economic and trade ties.
  3. Technological support: For the new People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union was the most important source of financial and technological support.
  4. Respect for sovereignty: Russia’s backing for China’s position on Taiwan is also a benchmark.

Current state of ties

  • Last year, Russia’s Foreign Minister has described relations as the “best in their entire history”. Both premiers have met 38 times (in person and virtually) since 2013.
  • The biggest factor behind their current closeness is:
  1. Shared discomfort with the US and its allies
  2. NATO and its ideological cold war approaches
  3. Indo-Pacific strategy and QUAD
  4. One-China Principle

Military closeness

  • China in 2014 became the first foreign buyer of the S-400 missile defence system, which India has also purchased (although there have been reported delays in delivery for reasons unknown).
  • Their joint exercises have also grown in scope.
  • Last year, a third “joint strategic air patrol” was held over the East China Sea.

Trade and Commerce

  • Russia is China’s largest source of energy imports and second largest source of crude oil.
  • Energy set to account for 35% of trade in 2022.
  • China has been Russia’s biggest trading partner for 12 consecutive years and accounts for close to 20% of Russia’s total foreign trade (Russia, on the other hand, accounts for 2% of China’s trade).
  • But Russia is, for China, a key market for project contracts besides energy supplies.
  • Chinese companies signed construction project deals worth $5 billion last year — for the third straight year.

Chinese response to the Ukraine Crisis

  • Given these deep trade linkages, China does not want instability (or, for that matter, a spurt in energy prices).
  • China has iterated that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and safeguarded.
  • China has preferred resolution to the current crisis through diplomacy and a return to the Minsk Agreement.
Minsk Agreement: They were a series of international agreements which sought to end the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Implications for the world

  • China has repeatedly underlined that it is sympathetic to Russia’s concerns on NATO, which mirror its own opposition to America’s allies in the Indo-Pacific.
  • As strategic back-to-back fraternal partners, China is obliged to bolster Russia in time of need.
  • With consistent support from China, the Russian economy has become increasingly resilient following years of sanctions imposed by the US and other Western developed countries.
  • A strong economy will back up Moscow to deflect ruthless economic coercion from the US.

Implications for India

  • Strategists in the west and in India have often questioned the robustness of the relationship as well as Russia’s possible unease at being the “junior partner” and increasingly beholden to Chinese interests.
  • The Russian President’s invite to Pak PM Imran Khan is the recent unwelcomed moved for India.
  • In this regard, New Delhi expects Sino-Russian closeness to continue, which poses its own challenges.
  • This is not, however, an entirely new situation, as history reminds us, on how the Soviet Union responded to China’s attack on India in 1962.


  • It is no doubt that India would restrict its foreign policy choices and undermine its own status as a rising power of global standing by taking sides in a conflict that has nothing to do with it.


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