Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Jul, 05, 2019

[op-ed snap] On the edge of the big league


History of alignments

Post world war

Post World War II, Japan, Germany and the UK were closely aligned to the US and other western European nations were also in the US camp through NATO. India’s non-alignment post Indira Gandhi became Soviet Union-leaning and the US moved closer to Pakistan as a check on the Soviets who had taken control of Afghanistan. One could have argued India made a bad choice, but frankly, we were not very exciting to the US and strong Soviet backing to India after the 1971 war allowed the liberation of Bangladesh.

Nineties Fashion

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union left us weak internationally and our economic policies had taken us into a major balance of payments crisis in 1991.
  • This was a blessing in disguise as it forced us to review both our economic policies and our global alignments.
  • With an IMF assisted structural adjustment programme, many parts of the economy were liberalised.
  • After the initial pain, we slowly moved away from the import substituting industry model we had followed and became a more market-friendly economy.


  • Two forces dominated the geopolitical context in the first decade of the 21 century — China and technology.
  • China became the second-largest economy in the world with its GDP going from $1 trillion to $10 trillion dollars in 15 years.
  • At the same time, the progress in technology was transformative on the back of massive computing power, ubiquitous high-speed connectivity, cheap and unlimited storage and the creation and capture of enough data to make machine learning intelligent and powerful.
  • As a result, technological power and cyber capabilities also became a superpower compulsion.
  • These two developments have led to a change in the basis of power and geopolitical alignment in today’s world. It has all happened in 15 years.

Evaluation of Power

  • Power now needs to be evaluated on four levels — military, economic, cyber and soft power.
  • Interestingly, now different countries lead in different areas, making alignment and geopolitics more complicated.
  • Militarily, it is still the the US and Russia in the lead.
  • China is a clear third.
  • In terms of economic power, the US leads followed by China, and Russia does not figure.
  •  Cyber power – In the cyber domain, five countries have established positions – the US, China, Russia, Israel and Iran and others are lagging. Consider the Russian attack on the US elections, the purported cyber-attack by the US on Iran, the banning of Huawei, Iranian cyber-attacks on the Saudis and China’s great strength in digital and artificial intelligence.
  • Soft Power – In soft power, the US leads but China and Russia don’t really feature. In fact, India has a play.

The multilayered strategy of India

  • If we just observe India’s actions, it is comforting to note we are following a multilayered strategy, walking a complicated tightrope.
  • We continue to ally with Russia on arms’ purchases with our purchase of the S-400 Air Missile System, despite the threat of American sanctions.
  • Economically, though, we are trying to get closer to the US and are not fighting their unilateral sanctions against Iran on oil, despite the substantial impact on our balance of payments.
  • It is both sad and ironic that despite our great capability in technology and our big presence in Silicon Valley, we lag in cyber preparedness at great risk to ourselves.
  • India’s movement on data localisation is needed. Even Europe has imposed the GDPR. But overall, we need to act fast.

India’s Soft power Vision

  • With soft power, India is doing better.
  • We are advancing with our music, food and Bollywood and are going beyond West Asia into the affluent Indian diaspora in the US and UK.
  • Getting the UN to recognise a World Yoga day has been a master stroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is a great first step but our inbound tourism still lags behind.


If we act, we are well positioned. Faster arms purchases, developing cyber capability and using technology to address major gaps in education and healthcare are needed. We have the opportunity but not the right to become a third major power. No one will give it to us.

Apr, 13, 2019

PM to get Russia’s highest civilian award


  • Russia has announced  that it will confer its highest civilian award, the “Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,” on PM Narendra Modi for his work on bilateral ties.

Why this award?

  • The order was presented to the PM for his distinguished contribution to the development of a privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India and friendly ties between the Russian and Indian peoples.
  • The Russian honour comes after a week of the Indian premier being awarded the UAE’s highest civilian award, the Zayed Medal, for his crucial role in boosting the strategic relationship between the two countries.

About the Award

  • The award was established in 1698 but it was abolished during the communist era, before being reinstated in 1998.
  • Since then, it has been awarded to 18 people, mostly Russians, such as AK-47 designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, former president Mikhail Gorbachev and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Facts for Prelims

  • The Russian honour is the seventh international award conferred on Modi since he came to power in 2014.
  • The Zayed Medal by the UAE (2019), Grand Collar of the State of Palestine (2018), Amir Abdullah Khan Award is Afghanistan (2016) and Order of King Abdullaziz from Saudi Arabia (2016) are the most significant civilian awards given to the Indian prime minister by heads of Islamic nations.
  • He has also been awarded with the UN’s ‘Champions of the Earth’ Award for his leadership of the International Solar Alliance and pledge to eliminate single use plastic in India by 2022.
Dec, 28, 2018

Russia ‘successfully’ tests hypersonic missile


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  INF Treaty, Avangard System

Mains level: Recent trend of USA’s disregard of bilateral and multilateral treaties and its impact on India as well as global geopolitics


INF treaty pull-back implications

  1. Russia has a tested new type of strategic weapon, the intercontinental “Avangard” system.
  2. The hypersonic missile could fly at 20 times the speed of sound and manoeuvre up and down, meaning that it could breach defence systems.
  3. The final test comes after U.S. announced plans to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons pact, the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Avangard hyper-sonic boost-glide missile system

  1. Avangard, also known as “Objekt 4202,” is supposed to combine a high-performance ballistic missile with an unmanned glider vehicle for significant improvements in maneuverability and sustained top speed.
  2. It is powered by a scramjet engine that accelerates it up to Mach 27.
  3. When approaching a target, the glider is capable of sharp high speed evasive maneuvers in flight making it “absolutely invulnerable for any missile defence system”.
  4. This technology allows Avangard missiles to travel at up to 20 Mach or approximately 24,700 km per hour.
  5. It is a speed made possible by the use of “new composite materials” to stay within a stable range of 1,600 to 2,000 degrees Celsius.
  6. Its boost-glider system grants it “lateral” and “vertical” evasive maneuvers by “several thousand kms.
Oct, 10, 2018

[op-ed snap] India and Russia: Salvaging a strategic partnership


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Shadow of US sanctions on India-Russia ties and how to balance both sides


Indo Russia relations

  1. The shadow of America loomed over the India-Russia summit recently held in New Delhi
  2. The question that dominated the meet was whether or not the deal for the Russian air defence missile system, the S-400, would go through
  3. The contract for the S-400 was signed at the Delhi summit

Why worries about the deal?

  1. The U.S. has been publicly warning for months that this purchase could attract provisions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which authorises the U.S. government to impose sanctions on entities for “significant” defence transactions with Russia
  2. The sanctioned entity would be cut off from all business in the U.S. and with U.S. companies

Recent slack in ties

  1. Indian and Russian perspectives today differ on key issues in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Afghanistan and China — and on India’s strategic linkages with the U.S., including on the Indo-Pacific
  2. The Joint Statement issued at the summit has the usual laundry list of priority areas of cooperation, including infrastructure, engineering, natural resources, space and technology
  3. It expresses the commitment to raise trade and investment to a level more commensurate with the potential

Opportunities for cooperation

  1. Russia is natural resources-rich and India is resource-hungry
  2. The U.S. and European sanctions on Russia between 2014 and 2016 are sector- and currency-specific
  3. With proper structuring of business deals, trade and investment exchanges with Russia are possible, and without losing business with Europe and America

No benefits for the US

  1. The threat to India-Russia defence cooperation extends well beyond the suspense over the S-400 deal
  2. Every potential India-Russia defence deal could be subjected to a determination on the applicability of sanctions
  3. Actually imposing sanctions would hurt U.S. defence sales to India, defeating one of the principal objectives of the legislation
  4. The effort by the US would likely be to achieve desired results with the threat of sanctions

Way forward

  1. The India-U.S. strategic partnership is based on a strong mutuality of interests, but it was not intended to have the exclusivity of an alliance
  2. India should not have to choose between one strategic partnership and another
  3. The India-Russia dialogue should not get inextricably entangled in the India-U.S. dialogue
Oct, 08, 2018

[op-ed snap] Oldest friends: India and Russia


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Testing times for India-Russia bilateral relations and options available with India


Russian President’s India Visit

  1. India-Russia summits have traditionally been short on time and ceremony and big on productivity
  2. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 22-hour visit to Delhi last week was no exception
  3. The two countries announced a number of agreements, including a $5.43 billion S-400 Triumf missile system deal, a space cooperation arrangement to put an Indian in space, and an action plan for a new nuclear plant

Exploring new avenues

  1. PM Modi and Mr. Putin also addressed a business summit, in an attempt to diversify ties and increase bilateral trade, currently below $10 billion
  2. Much of the fresh momentum in bilateral engagement will come from the energy sector
  3. Several billions of dollars worth of investment and energy deals are in the pipeline

Geopolitical implications of agreements done

  1. The signing of the S-400 air defence system deal is of far greater consequence than its size
  2. It denotes India’s desire to deepen defence cooperation with Russia which is prepared to do this despite U.S. warnings that the deal could attract sanctions
  3. This deal comes just a month after India signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for better interoperability with the U.S. military is a sign that India will not be forced or even persuaded into putting all its eggs in one strategic basket

Difficulties ahead for India

  1. India chose to sign the S-400 deal but resisted concluding other major defence deals with Russia on helicopters, stealth frigates and assault rifles
  2. More defence deals with Russia will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to give India a waiver from sanctions under CAATSA, its legislation aimed at curtailing defence and energy dealings with Russia, Iran and North Korea
  3. Washington has already reacted to the S-400 deal, making it clear that any waiver will not be on a “country” basis, but on a “transaction-by-transaction” basis
  4. Accepting a waiver will implicitly commit India to reducing its intake of Russian military hardware

Way Forward

  1. New Delhi’s assertion of “strategic autonomy” and desire for multipolarity will be seriously tested in the coming months
  2. The situation can be much more complex when friends expect you to choose between them
Oct, 06, 2018

India, Russia sign S-400 missile deal after summit


Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Challenges to internal security

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Details of S-400 System

Mains level: Protecting Indian airspace against neighborhood threats.



  1. India and Russia concluded the contract for five S-400 ‘Triumf’ missile systems, one of the biggest defence deals in recent times.
  2. The announcement of the deal could attract sanctions from the United States, was made in a joint statement issued by both sides.

No pact on frigates

  1. The two sides failed to conclude two other major deals, for stealth frigates and assault rifles that were reportedly ready citing further negotiations.
  2. Significantly, the agreement for the estimated $5.43 billion (Rs. 40,300 crore) S-400 system was not referred to by either leader in their press statements.
  3. It was also the only agreement not included with eight others exchanged.

S-400 Coming Soon

  1. Deliveries of S-400 will begin in 24 months, at the end of 2020.
  2. India would pay about 15% in advance, likely through the rupee-rouble mechanism both countries use for trade in their own currencies.

Defying fears of US Sanction

  1. The U.S. has warned the deal would invoke sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) law.
  2. It penalizes defence purchases from Russia, Iran and North Korea, as soon as the first payment is made, unless US grants a “waiver.”
  3. Any waiver for the S-400 deal would only be considered on a “transaction-by-transaction basis
  4. The negotiations for S-400 preceded CAATSA by a long period of several years.
  5. It fulfils a certain defence requirement for India and the government has taken the decision in the national interest.


S-400 Triumf

The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system, capable of destroying hostile strategic bombers, jets, missiles and drones at a range of 380-km.

Why does India need S-400?

  1. India needs to be well-equipped against neighboring threats.
  2. Pakistan has over 20 fighter squadrons, with upgraded F-16s, and inducting J-17 from China in large numbers. China has 1,700 fighters, including 800 4-Gen fighters.
  3. A shortfall of fighter squadrons has severely affected IAF’s efforts to pose a challenge to the enemies.
Nov, 08, 2017

‘India, Russia stand united against terror’

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: The statements by the envoy shows consistent support of Russia to India on different fronts.


Russia’s support to India

  1. Russia’s relation with India is “privileged and strategic” and Russia shares India’s counter-terrorism concerns, a statement by the newly appointed envoy of Russia to India
  2. He also said, “We stand united on majority of issues [with India] including the [UN] comprehensive convention on counter-terrorism”
  3. Newly appointed envoy of Russia to India: Nikolay Kudashev

Statement on the OBOR

  1. On this he said, “OBOR is an economic venture. We favour China and India coming to an understanding for the preferred route on this”
Nov, 30, 2016

No ‘secret talks’ with Pak. on CPEC: Russia

  1. Source: Russian Foreign Ministry statement
  2. It said that the possibility of Russia joining this CPEC initiative is not being discussed with Islamabad
  3. It denied the reports in Pakistani media about it holding “secret talks” with Pakistan



This news helps to correct the earlier reports of Russia being involved in CPEC. Through this you can understand how misinformation is spread in international relations. Hence, unless you read official statements, it helps to be sceptical to some degree.

Nov, 28, 2016

Pakistan approves Russia’s request to use strategic Gwadar Port

  1. Event: Pakistan has approved Russia’s request to use the strategic Gwadar Port for its exports
  2. This signals a new alignment in bilateral relations after decades’ of sour ties during the Cold War era
  3. Pakistan is eager to improve its ties with Russia to diversify its defence purchase options in light of its worsening relations with the U.S.
Nov, 16, 2016

Russia-Pak.-China forum clouds Afghan donor meet II

  1. The separate consultation in Moscow fuels speculation of a growing Russia-China-Pakistan axis
  2. In Sept, India made its displeasure known when Russian troops went ahead with military exercises, their first such engagement in Pakistan, just days after the Uri attack
  3. Despite India’s requests during the BRICS summit, Russia and China refused to insert specific references to “cross-border” terror that targets India in the final statement
Nov, 16, 2016

Russia-Pak.-China forum clouds Afghan donor meet I

  1. What: India’s traditional ally, Russia, is working on a regional partnership on Afghanistan that includes Pakistan and China
  2. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced the meeting of ‘Russia-China-Pakistan’ consultations to be held in Moscow in Dec
  3. India and Iran are not included in the consultations
  4. Significance: The announcement comes just ahead of the 13-nation ‘Heart of Asia’ donor conference for Afghanistan
  5. It is due to be held in Amritsar on December 3 and 4
Oct, 28, 2016

India, Russia to hold more defence talks

  1. What: India and Russia have agreed on measures to broad-base military cooperation
  2. Context: India said Russia are trying to reaffirm their friendship in light of evolving relations with others countries
  3. India has submitted a non-paper to the Russian side
  4. It proposes a series of steps such as more military-to-military dialogue, exercises, staff-level talks and joint development
  5. One of the focus areas is to do more training and hold more exercises on a regular basis
Oct, 14, 2016

India, Russia to set up agro irradiation centres

  1. Expanding cooperation in civil nuclear energy, India and Russia are collaborating to set up integrated irradiation centres in India
  2. Aim: To reduce agricultural losses
  3. Irradiation: Food products are subjected to a low dosage of radiation to treat them for germs and insects, increasing their longevity and shelf life
  4. Losses: In India, post-harvest losses in food and food grains are around 40-50%
  5. Reasons: These are primarily due to insect infestation, microbiological contamination, physiological changes due to sprouting and ripening, and poor shelf life
  6. There are a few low level irradiation plants in the country, which are not adequate.
  7. Safety: The irradiation doses are recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the final product is absolutely safe.
Oct, 14, 2016

Putin says India ‘privileged strategic partner’, to ink weapon deal

  1. Russian President: Russia remains one of India’s leading suppliers of advanced weapons and defence technology as ‘India is Russia’s especially privileged strategic partner’
  2. Putin and PM Modi are expected to sign an agreement on the delivery of S-400 ‘Triumph’ anti-missile defence systems and other deals during the BRICS Summit in Goa this weekend
  3. Russia has deployed the S-400, its most modern air defence system, for the bombing campaign Syria.
  4. Russia remains in the lead in terms of both direct supplies of most advanced weapons and military equipment and conducting joint researches with India, as well as producing goods for military purposes
  5. The construction of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and the development of a new, fifth generation fighter aircraft are among the successful joint projects
Oct, 12, 2016

India unhappy over Russia-Pakistan ties

  1. News: India’s ties with Russia are likely to be affected if Moscow continues to expand military relations with Islamabad
  2. Indian Ambassador to Russia: Warned of problems ahead in bilateral ties, even as both sides planned a major summit on the sidelines of the upcoming Goa BRICS summit
  3. Have conveyed to the Russian side that military cooperation with Pakistan, which is a state that sponsors and practises terrorism as a matter of state policy, is a wrong approach
Sep, 21, 2016

Putin tightens control with big win for ruling party

  1. Context: Elections for Russian Parliament (Duma)
  2. The ruling United Russia party took three quarters of the seats in Parliament
  3. It paves the way for Putin to run for a fourth term as President
  4. Vote of Confidence: This is its biggest ever majority for the party
Mar, 28, 2016

India, Russia to conclude helicopter deals this year

  1. Context: The two countries had signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement in Dec 2015, for joint production of the Kamov-226T utility helicopter in India
  2. News: India and Russia to conclude 2 helicopter deals together worth over $ 2 billion by year end
  3. Kamovs will replace Cheetah and Chetak helicopters which are in service with military for many decades
  4. Importance: It is the first project for a major defence platform under the Make in India mission
  5. Russia has already selected Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as the Indian partner for the deal
Feb, 01, 2016

Russia encouraging Provinces to develop ties with India

  1. In a bid to take ties with India beyond the defence sector, Russia is giving more freedom to its Provinces to engage with Indian States directly.
  2. Provinces have been given free hand to deal with India in the fields of agriculture, health, education, cultural cooperation.
  3. There is growing competition among provinces to take advantage of the positive trend in India-Russia ties.
  4. Provinces like Mordovia and Astrakhan compete to benefit from overall bilateral ties.
Dec, 26, 2015

Rosneft, Indian firms to focus on exploring oil fields in East Siberia

Agreement focuses on cooperation for onshore geological survey, exploration and production of hydrocarbons in the Russian Federation, said Rosneft.

  1. This deal will initially focus on exploring fields in East Siberia, operated by Taas-Yuryakh Neftegazodobycha LLC.
  2. Gives additional impulse to the development of one of the largest greenfields of East Siberia.
  3. Besides, Rosneft and ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of state-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC), signed an agreement.
  4. Both firms also signed a deal for joint survey, exploration and production of hydrocarbons onshore and on the continental shelf of the Russian Federation.
Dec, 25, 2015

Make in India to be at the centrestage of India-Russia strategic relationship

Russia is the first country to have agreed to take the initiative under the “Make in India” umbrella in two key strategic sectors, nuclear and defence.

  1. New Delhi and Moscow decided to build nuclear reactor components and military helicopters in India.
  2. The agreement is expected to result in the construction of 12 atomic plants with the involvement of Indian firms.
  3. Inter-Governmental Agreement on the manufacture of Kamov-226 helicopters in India is the first project for a major defence platform under the Make-in-India mission.
Dec, 25, 2015

Russian defence choppers to be ‘made in India’

  1. India and Russia decided to expand cooperation across various sectors as they signed 16 pacts.
  2. Both nations vow to increase bilateral trade and defence deals and augment implementation of decisions.
  3. The deals include joint manufacture of 226 military helicopters and construction of 12 atomic plants with involvement of local companies in India.
  4. The two country aims to increase the current bilateral trade of $10 bn to $30 bn in next 10 years.
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