The recently concluded 21st India Russia Annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin saw a host of agreements signed.
Historical relationship between India-Russia
India Russia relations started during the Russian Revolution itself. After India’s independence, it improved further.
- Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru went to Russia in 1955. This is followed by the visit of the First Secretary of the Communist Party to India.
- During that, he mentioned the support of the Soviet Union for India’s sovereignty over the disputed territories of Kashmir and Portuguese coastal enclaves such as Goa. Even after the abrogation of Article 370 Russia still supports India’s claim over Kashmir.
- The USSR agreed to transfer technology to co-produce the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 jet fighter in India in 1962. But the USSR rejected a similar move to China.
- India signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1971 during the Bangladesh liberation war.
Post-Soviet era India Russia relations:
During this phase the important development include,
- Russia and India entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1993
- In 2000, the Russian President visited India and underlined the importance of Strategic Partnership. The other important events in this visit are,
- Both countries also signed a “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership”
- Further, India and Russia also institutionalised annual meetings(India-Russia summit). Since then the annual meetings
Glimpse India and Russia Bilateral Relations
- The Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on six major components: politics, defence, trade, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism cooperation and space
- During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union had a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship. After the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited its close relationship with India which resulted in both nations sharing a Special Strategic Relation
- The Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC) is the main body that conducts affairs at the governmental level between both countries
- The two countries are members of various International Organisations and connectivity projects. This includes:
- BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa)
- Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
- Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
- United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
- India is the second-largest market for the Russian defence industry. In 2017, approximately 68% of the Indian Military’s hardware import came from Russia, making Russia the chief supplier of defence equipment
- Indian Defence minister visited Russia to commemorate World War II Victory Day in 2020
- The Annual Summit meeting between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalised dialogue mechanism in the strategic partnership between India and Russia. As of 2020, 20 Annual Summit meetings have taken place alternatively in India and Russia
- 14 MoUs in the fields of Trade and Investments, defence cooperation, Road Transport and cooperation in oil and gas sectors were signed during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin held their first informal Summit in the city of Sochi in the Russian Federation on May 21, 2018
- On April 12, 2019, President Putin signed the Executive Order on awarding PM Narendra Modi Russia’s highest state decoration – The order of St Andrew the Apostle. The order was presented to 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
- Two Inter-Governmental Commissions – one on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), and another on Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC- MTC), meet annually
Defence and Security Relations
- India-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved from a buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems
- The first-ever Tri-Services exercise –‘INDRA 2017’ took place in Vladivostok from October 19 to 29, 2017. Know more about INDRA – the joint military exercise between India and Russia, at the linked article.
- On December 13-16, bilateral Russian-Indian naval exercise Indra Navy-2018 was held in the Bay of Bengal
- Joint Tri-Services Exercise ‘INDRA 2019’ between India and Russia was carried out simultaneously in Babina, Pune, and Goa from 10th -19th December 2019
- The joint military programmes between India and Russia include:
- BrahMos cruise missile programme
- 5th generation fighter jet programme
- Sukhoi Su-30MKI programme
- Ilyushin/HAL Tactical Transport Aircraft
- KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters
- some frigates
- The military hardware purchased/leased by India from Russia includes:
- S-400 Triumf
- Kamov Ka-226 200 to be made in India under the Make in India initiative
- T-90S Bhishma
- INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier programme
- S-400 air defence system
- Russia also plays a very important role in assisting the Indian Navy with its submarine programmes:
- Indian Navy’s first submarine, ‘Foxtrot Class’ came from Russia
- India is dependent on Russia for its nuclear submarine programme
- INS Vikramaditya, the sole aircraft carrier operated by India, is also Russian in origin
- Nine of the fourteen conventional submarines operated by India are Russian
India Russia Trade Relations
- The two countries intend to increase bilateral investment to US$50 billion and bilateral trade to US$30 billion by 2025
- In 2019, total bilateral trade between the two countries from January-September, 2019 stood at USD 7.55 billion
- From 2013 to 2016 there was a major decline in the trade percentage between the two countries. However, it increased from 2017 onwards and a constant increase was noticed in 2018 and 2019 as well
- While in 2017, trade in services was USD 1095.4 million, it reduced slightly in 2018 to USD 999 million. The figure stands at USD 633.68 million for the period (January – June), 2019
- Top products of import in India from Russia include:
|Mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation
|Natural or cultured pearls, precious or semi-precious stones, precious metals
|Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances
|Electrical machinery and equipment and parts
- Top products of export from India to Russia include:
|Electrical machinery and equipment and parts
|Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances
|Vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling-stock
50 years of Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation:
- India and Russia have completed 50 years of friendship.
- Recently, the two countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation.
- On 9 August 1971, India and the then Soviet Union (present-day Russia) signed the Chiranjeevi Friendship Papers.
- The strength of the relationship between the two countries was such that it radically changed the equation of the then world.
- Not only this, it influenced the foreign policy not only of South Asia but also of America and European countries.
- In 1971, the situation was not favorable for India at all.
- On the one hand, in the then East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), the people suffering from the atrocities of the Pakistani army were entering India to take refuge in India. At the same time, the alliance of Pakistan, America and China was getting stronger.
- In such a situation, there was a big threat to the security of India surrounded by three directions.
- Despite the sanctions, both the US and China were providing military aid to Pakistan by secretly giving weapons.
- Russian Foreign Minister came to India and signed the agreement
- In such a situation, the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union Andrei Gromiko came to India and on this day in 1971, he signed the Soviet-India Peace, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty with the then Foreign Minister of India, Sardar Swaran Singh.
- This treaty became a milestone in the friendly relations between the two countries.
- Soon after this treaty, the Soviet Union declared that an attack on India would be considered an attack on it.
- This is cited as the reason why the US naval fleet did not dare to attack India during the 1971 war.
- Russia has been a longstanding and time-tested partner for India.
- Development of India-Russia relations has been a key pillar of India’s foreign policy.
- Since the signing of “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 (during the visit of President Putin), India-Russia ties have acquired a qualitatively new character with enhanced levels of cooperation in almost all areas of the bilateral relationship including political, security, defence, trade and economy, science and technology, and culture.
- Under the Strategic Partnership, several institutionalized dialogue mechanisms operate at both political and official levels to ensure regular interaction and follow up on cooperation activities.
- During the visit of the Russian President to India in December 2010, the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.”
Key takeaways of the 21st India Russia Summit
- 28 agreements/MoUs were signed during the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit in New Delhi
- PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed regional & global developments, including post-pandemic global economic recovery, & the situation in Afghanistan
- PM Modi thanked President Putin for the welfare of the Indian community in Russia, especially during COVID pandemic.
- Both leaders discussed the need for mutual recognition of vaccine certification to enable easier travel by our citizens to each other’s countries
- On the trade & investment side, there are some specific plans which include long-term corporation in the areas of inland waterways, fertilizers, coking coals, steel, skilled manpower.
- The issue of RELOS (Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement) has been put off for some time because there are still a few issues that need to be discuss further
- India will be manufacturing the AK 203 assault rifle here and S-400 deliveries have started.
- Fossil fuel imports from Russia, including coking coal for India’s steel industry, investments by Vostok Oil have been renewed and broadened.
- Connectivity, the most important being the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor, was discussed, not yet actioned.
- 21st India Russia summit dispelled the impression that India-Russia ties were on the wane because the two countries were moving closer to different partners in today’s primary international confrontation — the United States (US) and China, respectively.
- It showed that both leaderships are quite realistic about their relationship and where it is placed in this ongoing churn.
- The joint statement showcased the breadth and depth of the relationship as well as its nuanced responses to the several challenges that exist in areas where bilateral ties are affected by external developments.
- India and Russia clearly demonstrated the need to post-haste deal with the lack of economic traction between the two economies.
- This reflects Modi-Putin’s understanding that the relationship can only last, despite their close defence cooperation and similarity of long-term strategic views, if it has a robust economic foundation.
- The extension for another 10 years of the agreement on military cooperation is an indication that the two countries will continue to be important to each other’s defence sectors for several more years, even decades
- The two sides did not sign the widely expected Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS), which is similar to the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the US. This gives access to both countries to designated military facilities on either side for the purpose of refuelling and replenishment.
- Both Modi and Putin appear to have reduced vexing divergences significantly on a variety of important international issues — Afghanistan, the Indo-Pacific Quad, rapidly developing close ties between India and the US, and Russia’s growing relations with China and Pakistan.
Act Far East Policy
- The Far East as a geographical term refers to East Asia (including Northeast Asia), the Russian Far East (part of North Asia), and Southeast Asia. The Russian Far East comprises the Russian part of the Far East, the easternmost territory of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2019 launched ‘Act Far East’ policy while addressing the plenary session of the 5th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
- He announced a USD one billion line of credit for the development of the resource rich region. He was the Chief Guest at the Eastern Economic Forum.
- ‘India’s new Act Far East’ is an extension to India’s Act East policy, Act East Plus- as it includes Russia’s Far East. The goals are to consolidate the strategic and commercial relations.
- ‘Act Far-East’ policy does open a host of opportunities for India, Russia, and Japan as they aim to increase trade and balance relations with China.
- It also helps India to take a more considered stand regarding the South China Sea since the proposed maritime route with Russia goes through it.
- It also fulfills India’s view on ‘Indo-Pacific’ as “free and inclusive.”
- Initiatives taken, especially by India and Russia, could lead to a more robust economic relationship.
- ‘Act Far East’ allows India to look towards Russia as an alternative source of energy supplies as the situation in the Middle East is escalating with threats to essential oil trade routes.
- Rosneft’s involvement in the South China Sea allows India and Russia to collaborate in the region.
- Moreover, it gives Russia an opportunity to diversify from China . Russia has been worried about the growing presence of China in its Far East. If Indians are allowed as well as Indian businesses, it could offset the demography change that Russia is concerned about.
Why is Russia Important for India?
- Russia’s status in international sphere: Russia remains, and will remain a pre-eminent nuclear and energy power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council
- Multipolar World Politics: Since the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, maintaining close and strategic relations with Russia and the US at the same time is indispensable for India. Strong partnership with Russia provides India leverages to deal with other countries.
- Support for UNSC seat: Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
- Counterbalance to China Aggression: India has no option but to have a close relationship both with the US and Russia and to manage its difficult relationship with China. So long as Russia’s relationship with the West remains strained, Russia will look towards China. So long as Sino-Indian relations remain troubled, Russia’s going into the Chinese sphere of influence will not suit India.
- India’s energy security: Russia has huge reserves of oil. India to look towards Russia as an alternative source of energy supplies as the situation in the Middle East is escalating with threats to essential oil trade routes
- Important Technology supplier: Russia can help India build its technological potential by providing access to its technologies especially in the defence technology and nuclear technology.
Challenges in India Russia Relationships
The rapid expansion of India-US relations: This is one of the most cited reasons for strain in India-Russia relations. The development of India US defence cooperation is rapid since 2008.
- India-US nuclear deal in 2008 facilitated closer India-US relations.
- In 2014 US emerged as the top arms supplier to India by overtaking Russia.
- In 2016, India became a major defence partner of the US.
- Further, India also signed all the Foundational agreements with the US. Such as LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA.
- Due to these developments, Russia changed their decades-old policy and start supplying China with weapon systems like Sukhoi 35 and the S-400 missile defence system.
- Closer proximity of Russia towards China:
- Russia already proposed a Russia-India-China (RIC) forum of foreign ministers. But, there is no major diplomatic success of RIC due to India’s unresolved issues with China.
- China-Russian ties are growing due to their shared interest in opposing the US. The intense geostrategic rivalry between China and the US in the region. Russia which opposes the US joined hands with China. This is evident as Russia joined the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative.
The difference in understanding the Indo-Pacific:
Both India and Russia have a difference of opinion in understanding the concept of the Indo-Pacific. Russia opposes the term Indo-Pacific.
- As the term is primarily a US-led initiative aimed to contain China and Russia.
- The concept undermines ASEAN centrality in the development of the region.
- This will increase the US presence in the region, Further, it will reduce Russia’s involvement as Russia maintained a cordial relationship with Asian countries in the region. For this reason, Russia does not accept the concept of QUAD.
- Instead, Russia supports the concept of Asia Pacific.
- Other reasons include
- Russia’s increased engagement with Pakistan. As Russia involved in few projects in Pakistan, increased its military cooperation by bilateral exercise(Friendship), etc.
- Internal Issue in Russia: Russia at present is facing protests over corruption and State lawlessness in nearly 200 cities across Russia.
Suggestions to improve India-Russia Relations
- Both India and Russia have to identify their strengths and common concerns like developing joint projects in third countries. Such as the involvement of India and Russia in the Rooppur nuclear plant project in Bangladesh.
- Focus on Eurasia: India and Russia have to explore their opportunities in the Eurasian region. India can study the possibility of expanding Russia’s idea of “extensive Eurasian partnership” involving the EAEU(Eurasian Economic Union) and China, India, Pakistan, and Iran.
- India must take advantage of Russia’s capacity in helping India to become self-sufficient in Defence. For example, India’s collaboration with Russia in Brahmos Missile made India to export such missiles to countries like the Philippines. Further, India is also in talks with Thailand for the export of Brahmos.
- India needs to balance its relationship between Russia, China and the US. This is essential after the US conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation(FONOP) in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
- India has to utilise the scientific and technological base in Russia for the development of India’s problems.
In conclusion, though India-Russia relations have reduced to some extent, the recent defence and energy engagement between both the countries along with the US’s FONOP provided an opportunity to build the India-Russia relationship further. Both have to utilise the opportunity, as India and Russia can complement each other in the post-pandemic recovery.