Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

India and Russia look for a reset


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CAATSA

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Russia relations

Avoiding military alliances and retaining its strategic autonomy could help India play an important role in geopolitics at the same time maintaining the diversity in its relationships.

Transformation in India-Russia relations

  • The principal objective of the Russian Foreign Minister was to prepare the ground for the visit of President Vladimir Putin later this year.
  • The Indian perspective on the Indo-Pacific was conveyed to the Foreign Minister of Russia.
  •  India insists that its Indo-Pacific initiatives seek a cooperative order, that the Quad is not the nucleus of a politico-military alliance.
  • A $1 billion Indian line of credit for projects in the Russian Far East and activation of a Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor were announced in 2019.
  • The message was that India’s effort to restrain Chinese aggression is compatible with Russia’s vision of a Eurasian partnership.
  • Russia remains unconvinced, either because it feels India’s words do not match its actions or because of its close ties with China.

China factor in India-Russia relations

  • India is concerned about Russia’s China embrace, encompassing close political, economic and defence cooperation: Russia accounted for 77% of China’s arms imports in 2016-20.
  • India’s apprehensions about their technology- and intelligence-sharing were heightened by Mr. Putin’s remark that he would not rule out a future Russia-China military alliance. 

Russia-Pakistan relations

  • Foreign Minister visited Pakistan directly after India — the first time a Russian Minister has done so.
  • .He confirmed that Russia would strengthen Pakistan’s “counter-terrorism capability” .
  • Russia is now Pakistan’s second-largest defence supplier, accounting for 6.6% of its arms imports in 2016-20.
  • Their cooperation includes joint “counter-terrorism” drills and sharing perspectives on military tactics and strategic doctrines.

Factors to consider about defence cooperation with Russia

  • Despite being a major defence supplier of China and Pakistan, Russia remains a major supplier of cutting-edge military technologies to India.
  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) records that Russia supplied 49% of India’s arms imports in 2016-20.
  • SIPRI estimates that recent orders for Russian arms could boost future import figures. T
  • his is a reality check.
  • Defence cooperation is not a transactional exchange. Sharing of technologies and strategies is underpinned by a mutual commitment to protection of confidentiality.
  • Sustainable defence cooperation is based on a credible assurance that what is transferred to our adversaries will not blunt the effectiveness of our weapons systems.
  • In this already complex mix, the American sanctions legislation, CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), adds an external layer of complexity.

Criticality of geography influence India’s relationship with Russia and China

  • The Eurasian landmass to India’s north is dominated by Russia and China.
  • Strategic and security interests in Central Asia, West Asia and Afghanistan dictate our engagement with the region and the connectivity projects linking it, like the International North-South Transport Corridor through Iran.
  • India cannot vacate this space to a Russia-China condominium (with Pakistan in tow), without potentially grave security consequences.

The broader geopolitical context

  • The principal element in this is the drive for the superpower status of a powerful, assertive China.
  • The U.S., as the pre-eminent superpower, seeks to retard this process.
  • In a deviation from classical geopolitical strategy, the U.S. is taking on both China and Russia.
  • This move is driving Russia and China together and arguably accelerating the move to bipolarity.
  • Even so, the differentials in military, economic and political power across countries may complicate the emergence of two clear poles of the Cold War variety.
  • A decline in Western hostility to Russia could add to the complexity, if Russia takes the opportunity to loosen the Chinese embrace and position itself as a pole in the multipolar world.

Consider the question “The depth of India’s relationship with Russia will depend on the willingness and capacity of both countries to show mutual sensitivity to core security concerns. Comment.” 


India has to explore the space within these processes to maximise its global influence by steering clear of alliances and retaining the autonomy of policy.

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