Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Why the Russia-West equation matters to India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Implications of Russia-West relations for India


Thirty years ago this week, the Soviet Union collapsed — after seven decades of an expansive global role. Few countries have been as significant as Russia for modern India’s evolution.

Impact of Russian geopolitics on India’s worldviews

  • Russia’s relations with the West have always had consequences for India’s international relations.
  • India’s fear of a unipolar world dominated by the US: After the collapse of the USSR in December 1991, the loss of the long-standing Soviet ally left Delhi in fears of a unipolar world dominated by the US.
  • These anxieties were accentuated by post-Soviet Russia’s quick embrace of the US and the West.
  • However, by the turn of the millennium, relations between Russia and the West had begun to sour.
  • That drew India once again closer to Russia.
  • Russia’s growing closeness to China: Moscow also roped in Beijing to build a new coalition — the RIC — to promote a multipolar world that would limit the dangers of American hyperpower.
  • Improvement in India-US relations: India’s fears of the unipolar moment turned out to be overblown and Delhi’s ties with Washington began to see rapid improvement since 2000.
  • The upswing in India’s ties with America, however, coincided with a steady downturn in the relations between Russia and the US.

Tension between Russia and the West

  • The continuous escalation of tensions between Russia and the West culminated in the last few weeks in Ukraine — at the heart of Europe.
  • Moscow’s military mobilisation on the frontier with Ukraine — that was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 — raised alarm bells of a new war between the forces of Russia and the US-led European military alliance, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
  • Last week, Russia presented several proposals for a new European security architecture.
  • Moscow is calling for an end to NATO’s further eastward expansion.
  • Moscow also wants NATO to rescind its earlier promise to make Ukraine and Georgia — two former Soviet Republics — members of the military alliance.

Major compromises between US and Russia

  • The resolution of US-Russian differences, however, involves some major compromises.
  • Russia aware of the over reliance on China: While Russia has demonstrated that its interests can’t be simply ignored by the West, it also recognises the costs of a prolonged confrontation with the US and Europe and the dangers of relying solely on China to secure its geopolitical interests.
  • Russia seeking accommodation with US and Europe: While Moscow is unlikely to abandon the partnership with China, there is no doubt that an accommodation with America and Europe is a high priority for Russia.
  • US to focus on China challenge: The US, which is now focused on the China challenge, appears interested in easing the conflict with Russia.
  • Despite its extraordinary military resources, Washington can’t afford to fight in both Asia (with China) and Europe (with Russia).

Implications for India

  • Role of ideological sentiment: While coping with the complex dynamic of Russia’s relations with the West has been an enduring element of independent India’s foreign policy, Delhi’s thinking on Russia has too often been coloured by ideological sentiment.
  • In Delhi, the tendency is to over-determine Russia’s contradictions with the West.
  • It is not Russia’s national destiny to forever confront the West.
  • Russia’s current problems with the West are not about ideological principles.
  • It is about the terms of an honourable accommodation.
  • Prior to the 1917 revolution, Russia was a leading part of the European great power system.
  • Delhi can’t influence the new effort to build a mutually acceptable security order in Europe, but it can welcome and support it.
  • Role of Asian geopolitics: That the pressure for this attempted reset in Russia’s relations with the West is coming from Asian geopolitics is of some significance.
  • A reconciliation between Russia and the West will make it a lot easier for India to manage its own security challenges.


Delhi knows that stabilising the Asian balance of power will be difficult without a measure of US-Russian cooperation in Europe. If Moscow — at odds with the West in the last two decades — deepens its current close alignment with Beijing, it will be a lot harder to prevent Chinese dominance over Asia.

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