Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Realising the potential of India-Russia ties


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : S-400

Mains level : Paper 2- India- Russia ties in the changed geopolitical context


The Russian president is on visit to India. Visits by Russian presidents to India always invoke a sense of nostalgia. The Moscow-Delhi relationship dates back to the Cold War era and it has been strong ever since.

Factors limiting the possibilities for bilateral partnership

  • The conflict between Russia and the West: One factor is the continuing conflict between the Kremlin and the West.
  • Absence of trade between India and Russia: The other is the absence of a thriving commercial relationship between India and Russia.
  • India-US relations: India’s relations with Washington has never been as intense as it is today.
  • Russia-China relations: Moscow’s embrace of Beijing is tighter than ever.
  • The US-China rivalry: That the US and China are now at each other’s throats makes the great power dynamic a lot more complicated for India and Russia.

Importance of trade ties

  • Need for robust business ties: That Delhi and Moscow have problems with the best friend of the other would have been more manageable if business ties between India and Russia were solid.
  • Where India and Russia have greater freedom is in the economic domain, but their failure to boost the commercial relationship has been stark.
  • India-Russia annual trade in goods is stuck at about $10 billion.
  • Slow progress on enhancing trade and investment ties: During the last 20 summits with Putin, the two sides have repeatedly affirmed the importance of enhancing trade and investment ties; but progress has been hard to come by.
  • How to fix the problem? The problem clearly can’t be fixed at the level of governments.
  • The Russian business elites gravitate to Europe and China. The Indian corporations are focused on America and China.

Russia-US ties and its implications for India

  • Implications for India? The structural constraints posed by the great power dynamic and vastly different appreciation of the regional security environment could be reduced if matters improve between Washington and Moscow.
  • In Washington, the Biden administration recognises the importance of ending this permanent crisis in US-Russian relations.
  • Winning a strategic competition with China: The Biden administration, which is focused on winning the intensifying strategic competition with China, values a stable relationship with Russia.
  •  Nothing pleases Moscow more than the image of being Washington’s equal on the global stage.
  • Relief for India: A less conflictual relationship between Washington and Moscow will be a huge relief for India; but Delhi can’t nudge them closer to each other.

Why the partnership with India matters to Russia

  • Dangers of excessive reliance on China: Persistent conflict with the US, Europe, and Japan have moved Moscow ever closer to Beijing.
  • But Moscow knows the dangers of relying solely on a neighbour which has risen to greatness — the Chinese economy at nearly $15 trillion today is nearly 10 times larger than that of Russia.
  • Sustaining the traditional partnership with India: While resetting Russia’s relations with the West is hard, sustaining the traditional partnership with Delhi is of some political value to Moscow.
  • Longstanding defence ties: Russia is pleased that the S-400 missile sale has gone through despite strong US opposition.
  • For it signals Delhi’s commitment not to let Washington roll back India’s longstanding defence ties with Russia.
  • Russia knows India’s strategic cooperation with the US has acquired an unstoppable momentum; and Delhi knows it has no veto over the Sino-Russian strategic partnership.
  • Moscow and Delhi are learning to live with this uncomfortable unreality and stabilising their political ties within that context.

Consider the question “While both India and Russia have drifted apart from the depth of past partnerships, there is a need for stabilising their political ties within the changed context.Comment.”


Delhi and Moscow have no reason to be satisfied with the poor state of their commercial ties. The success of Monday’s summit lies not in squeezing more out of bilateral defence ties, but in laying a clear path for expansive economic cooperation, and generating a better understanding of each other’s imperatives on Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific.

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