Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Russia-China Relations and its effects on India-Russia Relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RIC and BRICS

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Russia relations

The article highlights Russia’s increasing inclinations towards China and its implications for India.


Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently asserted that both the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, are “responsible” enough to solve issues between their countries, while underlining the need to debar any “extra-regional power” to interfere in the process.

Implications for India-Russia ties

  • By this remark, Russia expects India to give up all efforts to reverse Beijing’s encroachment strategies.
  • The remarks can only be seen as reinforcing China’s claim that the Quadrilateral or Quad is aimed at containing China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Russia’s continued criticism of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad suggests the divergent perspectives of India and Russia on how to deal with China’s rise to global prominence.
  • While India needs Russia’s partnership for its defence needs, India cannot endorse the Russian perspective on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad
  • The Russian attitude toward China’s growing power and influence will be the touchstone of Russia’s relations with India.
  • Russia has rejected the Indo-Pacific construct in favour of the Asia-Pacific on the ground that the first is primarily an American initiative designed to contain both China and Russia.
  • With the rise of populist nationalism amidst the decline of globalisation, the resolution of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute appears a difficult task.

Background of India’s balancing strategies

  • Following the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), India soon realised Russia was much weaker than the erstwhile USSR and incapable of helping India balance potential threats from Beijing. 
  • On the other hand, Russia began to cast Moscow as the leader of a supposed trilateral grouping of Russia-India-China against a U.S.-led unipolar world.
  • Russia became an early proponent of the ‘strategic triangle’ to bring together the three major powers.
  • India’s fear of the unipolar moment too made it easier for India to become part of this initiative.
  • But China’s dismissive attitude toward Indian capabilities, coupled with an emerging China-Pakistan nexus, prevented the success of this trilateral.
  • India, instead, invested its diplomatic energies in rapprochement with the United States.
  • Thus, India decided to get integrated in the economic order it once denounced.
  • Economic liberalisation also allowed India to buy sophisticated weapons from a wider global market that included suppliers such as Israel and France.
  • As the logic of intensive engagement with the West was effectively established, strategic partnership with the U.S. was a logical corollary.
  • India has been searching for other major powers to balance against China as it does not have the sufficient means for hard balancing.
  • India has deepened its ties with Japan and Australia in a way that is close to soft balancing. 
  •  among all of India’s balancing efforts, the stupendous growth in ties with the U.S. has been the greatest source of concern for China which views the India-U.S. rapprochement as containment.

Way forward for India-Russia ties

  • While other powers such as France, Australia, Japan and Russia will have an impact on the emerging maritime structures of the Indo-Pacific region, it is the triangular dynamic between India, China and the U.S. that is going to be the most consequential.
  • Russia is yet to realise that it will gain immensely from the multilateralism that the Indo-Pacific seeks to promote.
  • Being China’s junior partner only undermines Moscow’s great-power ambitions.
  • Given Russia’s preoccupation with ‘status’ rivalry with the U.S., Russia’s view of India-China relations seems understandable.
  • But there is a danger in permitting it to harden into a permanent attitude as an increasingly pro-Beijing Russia might adopt more aggressive blocking of India’s policy agendas.
  • That is why India is particularly interested in a normalisation of relations between Washington and Moscow.
  • The normalisation of relations between the U.S. and Russia will help India steer ties among the great powers.

India-China ties

  • Non-alignment, painful memories of colonial subjugation, opposition to great-power hegemony, and strong beliefs in sovereignty and strategic autonomy have been the key influencers in shaping India’s and China’s engagement with each other as well as the western world.
  •  But this has begun to change as Beijing is asserting its hegemony over Asia.
  • In such circumstances, multilateral forums such as the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have little practical value for Indian diplomacy.
  • Without China’s reciprocity, options before India are limited.
  • The response cannot be just symbolic or rhetorical. The absence of any material evidence of reciprocity is bound to doom an attempt at Sino-Indian rapprochement.


China is undoubtedly the most powerful actor in its neighbourhood but it cannot simply have its way in shaping Asia’s new geopolitics.

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