India Russia Relations and Recent Developments - Jatin Verma

India Russia Relations and Recent Developments

Updated on 10 September, 2019

GS2 International Relations

Indo-Russia relationship is a time-tested relationship where both the countries recognized development as a key pillar of their relations. The relationship has gained its momentum after the signing of “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000. Since, both countries have acquired a qualitatively new character with enhanced levels of cooperation in almost all areas of the bilateral relationship including political, security, trade and economy, defense, science and technology, and culture. The aforementioned cooperation entails about their traditional friendly relations before the disintegration of the Soviet Union and continuing close relations during the transition period and their interest in further deepening and diversifying close and multifaceted ties with each other in the coming years.

Historical Perspective of Indo Russian Relationship:

Indo-Russian relations began to blossom only in the 1960s and 1970s. Over the past several decades, Indo-Russian relations had been marked by a high degree of political and strategic trust. As the relationship evolved, it gained strength based on five pillars such as similar political and strategic perceptions of the world; intensive military-technical cooperation; strong economic bonds;  deep ties in science and technology; and people-to-people and cultural links.

  • At the Beginning: India and Russia's similar political and strategic outlook was reflected in the positions the two countries took on international issues through the second half of the 20th century.
  • The Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971 gave India the confidence to respond to the churn in East Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
  • The two countries' military-technical cooperation, meanwhile, has shown extraordinary levels of depth over the years. For one, Russia has provided India entire production lines on military platforms - from aircraft to tanks.
  • In the 1980s, the then-unprecedented lease of a nuclear-powered submarine by the Soviet Union to India served as a reminder of the unique strategic trust shared by the two countries.
  • Post-Cold War: The post-cold war duration were considered to be the worst years of Indo Russian relationship for the several reasons like economic activity declined, cultural cooperation collapsed, collaboration in science and technology slid down, and military-technical cooperation took a precipitous drop.
  • India, coincidentally, was undergoing a deep economic and social crisis at that time. However, sagacious steps by the Narasimha Rao government and its successors, aided by the efforts of a group of highly active diplomats, helped India to once again find an anchor to the sinking ship of Indo-Russian relations.
  • India was one of a handful of countries that decided to repay to Russia in full its debt to the Soviet Union - a billion dollars a year for over a decade. This continues to be remembered with gratitude in Russia.
  • The Russians are probably even more grateful for India's decision to place significant orders for military hardware and pay, in many cases, in advance. This helped Russia not only keep its military-industrial complex alive but retain significant numbers of its specialists who were being poached by interested parties from across the globe.
  • Today, almost three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military-technical cooperation between India and Russia has gone up tremendously and is probably at its most dynamic stage.

Strategic Relations between India and Russia: Annual Summit meeting between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism under the Strategic Partnership between India and the Russian Federation. The major areas of engagement and strategic relations between the two nations are as follows-

  • Political Relations:
    • The Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and Russia signed in October 2000 became a truly historic step towards revitalizing Indo-Russia Relationship.
    • Both countries closely collaborate on matters of shared national interest these include at the UN, BRICS, G20, and SCO where India has observer status and has been asked by Russia to become a full member.
    • Russia strongly supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and also has vocally backed India joining the NSG and APEC.
  • Defense Relations:
    • Indo-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved from a simple buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development, and production of advanced defense technologies and systems.
    • Both countries hold exchanges and training exercises between their armed forces annually. The Inter-Governmental Commission and its Working Groups and Sub-Groups review defense cooperation between the two countries.
    • Major Joint Military Programme:
  • BrahMos cruise missile programme
  • 5th generation fighter jet programme
  • Sukhoi Su-30MKI programme (230+ to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics)
  • Ilyushin/HAL Tactical Transport Aircraft
  • KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters
  • Economic Relations:
    • Economic relations between the two nuclear power countries have also considered to be the strategic one as the relationship has been growing steadily in the arena of trade, investment, and economic cooperation.
    • IRIGC-TEC is the main institutional mechanism to review economic cooperation. It integrates seven working groups on trade and economic cooperation, modernization and industrial cooperation, energy, investment projects, tourism and culture, science and technology, and communications & IT.
    • Free Trade Agreement (FTA): The formal process for the FTA between India and the EEU was begun at the 2014 Indo-Russian summit in New Delhi. The Indo-Russian FTA would result in a much bigger free trade agreement including India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan & Belarus.

Major Areas of Cooperation between India and Russia:

  • Co-operation in the Energy Sector: Russia is an important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and it recognizes India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record.
    • Construction of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) Units 1 & 2 is an example of fruitful cooperation between India and Russia. KKNPP Unit 1 has become operational in July 2013, while its Unit 2 is at an advanced stage of construction.
    • India and Russia also have ongoing cooperation in the field of hydrocarbons and power. ONGC Videsh Limited has substantive investments of over US$ 5 billion in two major oil and gas projects - Sakhalin-1 and Imperial Energy Limited (Tomsk).
  • Space Co-operation: India-Russia cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of outer space dates back to about four decades. India and Russia have both signed agreements for the cooperation and use of GLONASS. India's first Satellite Aryabhata was launched into space with the cooperation of the Soviet Union.
  • Cooperation in the Field of Science and Technology: The ongoing collaboration in the field of science & technology, under the Integrated Long-Term Programme of Co-operation (ILTP), is the largest co-operation programme in this sphere for both India and Russia.
    • In 2010, ILTP was extended for another 10 years with a renewed mandate "innovation-led technology programme”. India-Russia Science and Technology Centre with a branch each in Delhi-NCR and Moscow was set up in 2011-12 in order to promote the transfer of technologies and their commercialization.
    • Two Programmes of Cooperation in the field of science and technology and in biotechnology were signed in October 2013 and are in the process of implementation.
  • Cultural Engagement: The people to people ties between the two nations have been growing that strengthening the cultural relation. Yoga in Russia has been growing and becoming increasingly popular since the 1980s, particularly in majors cities and urban centers, mainly due to its reputation for health benefits
    • At the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit, an MoU was also signed between India's Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) and Russia's SIRIUS to further the Interaction between young people of India and Russia, especially schoolchildren.

Significance of the Relationship:

                        Russia's Needs India's Needs
  • A huge market to trade its goods to bypass western sanctions imposed.
  • Russia's transfer of technology can boost the indigenous industry which is in the infant stage.
  • India is a time-tested natural partner of Russia as compared to China. And soon Russia will find itself in competition with it as Beijing regards itself as the new G2 along with the US.
  • The country would profitable contribution in Make in India Initiatives.
  • On other dimensions, India can assist to provide the multi-polarity that Russia fiercely seeks.
  • The good diplomatic relationship improves India’s bargaining power when it negotiates arms sales with the West.
  • Russian can prove to be a major market for Indian industry such as pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy Products, bovine meat and frozen seafood.

  Various Multi-disciplinary Engagement between India and Russia: 19th India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit: The India-Russia annual bilateral summit considers being a significant one. The process of India Russia bilateral summit started from the beginning of 2000 and since then, the relationship has gained tremendous momentum, and the relationship developed a level of trust between two independent countries that was unprecedented in international affairs. The recent 19th India-Russia annual bilateral summit was held in New Delhi in which the two countries signed eight pacts in the fields of space, nuclear energy, railways after talks between the two leaders.

  • Highlights of the Summit: In this summit, India signed a $5 billion deal for the Russian S-400 Triumf missile shield systems.
  • The two countries exchanged Memorandums of Understanding in the fields of space, nuclear energy, railways, among others and signed over eight agreements.
  • A crucial MoU was signed between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Federal Space Agency of Russia 'ROSCOSMOS' on joint activities in the field of human spaceflight programme Gaganyaan.
  • Apart from this, the two sides are also looking at the possibility of building a gas pipeline from Russia to India to supply energy.
  • A MoU was also signed between India's Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) and Russia's SIRIUS to further the Interaction between young people of India and Russia, especially schoolchildren.
  • The two countries also agreed to step up cooperation in combating the menace of terrorism and drug trafficking. The two countries also committed to fully implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC): The Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC) is the main body that conducts affairs at the governmental level between both countries. In the political arena, IRIGC is one of the largest and most comprehensive governmental mechanisms that India has had with any country internationally. Almost every department from the Government of India attends it.

  • 23rd meeting of India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission (IRIGC-TEC): The IRIGC-TEC is a standing body which annually meets and reviews ongoing activities of bilateral cooperation in the fields of bilateral trade and investment, science and technology, culture and other issues of mutual interest.
  • The IRIGC-TEC is the apex forum for bilateral economic cooperation between India and the Russian Federation. It is a vital pillar of the special and privileged partnership between India and Russia.
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj led the Indian delegation at the 23rd meeting of India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission (IRIGC-TEC) to discuss the expansion of Russia-India relationship across all sectors.

Russia-India-China (RIC) Forum: RIC as a ‘diplomatic brand’ was born when three foreign ministers held the first trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2003. It was originally conceived by the former Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov. He pitched for a strategic triangle between Russia, India, and China. Significance of the RIC: The forum is a significant one in the context of various geopolitical issues such as regional security, issues affecting Asia-Pacific region, counter-terror efforts and coordination. The importance of the forum are as follows-

  • Common Vision for the World Order: Each is committed to the creation of a multi-polar world order based on respect for international law, multilateralism, and collective decision-making.
  • Economic Interests: RIC countries share a common interest in ensuring the continuance of economic globalization and are also committed to a process which seeks to reconcile regional demands for employment and resource allocation with the evolving pattern of global trade.
  • Considerable Weight in the UN: Two of the members are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the most powerful body with wider acceptance among the nations. Further, RIC could be a good platform for UNSC reforms which India is seeking.
  • Energy Cooperation: The potentials of cooperation between these three countries in the energy sector are really vast. While Russia is energy-rich country, both India and China are energy-hungry
  • Connectivity: There can be vast networks of transport and communication between the three countries by exploring the Silk Road through Afghanistan and Central Asia with links with these three countries.
  • Cooperation in other forums: Russia, India, and China are part of other regional and multilateral forum to which cooperation in RIC could pave the way for the cooperation of these countries in other forums. SCO and G-20 are such examples.

Recent Development between Indo-Russia Relationship:

  • In a recent most, India will give a line of credit worth USD 1 billion as announced by the Indian Prime Minister for the development (Russia's) far east.
  • This move is considered to be the important one as India for the first time has moved its gaze eastwards from Moscow towards the energy and mineral-rich region in Russia's Far East.
  • If properly implemented (a necessary caveat in both Moscow and New Delhi), India would be able to access new energy sources to reduce its Middle East dependence
  • In October 2016 The Russian President visited India for the 17th bilateral summit between India and Russia where Indian Prime Minister highlighted the “special and privileged strategic partnership” between India and Russia by quoting that, “An old friend is better than two new friends.”
  • In 2016, India also announced a $5.5 billion deal with Russia to purchase the S-400 Triumf air defence system. Russia could deliver it in 2018.
  • Both the countries are willing to strengthen the link in Indo-Russian cooperation in the areas of trade and investment. The sole goal of commitment is to boost bilateral trade to US$30 billion by 2025.
  • India’s investment in Russia’s oil and gas industry is likely to reach $15 billion by 2020, with India set to acquire an almost 50 percent stake in the Rosneft Siberian oil project.

Strain in Indo-Russia Relationship: The India-Russia relationship has been under some strain in the last several years just because of the growing perception in the Russian establishment that India was growing closer to the United States. On the other hand, it is not just Russia that is worried about the India-U.S. relationship. India too has concerns about Russia’s growing relationships with China and Pakistan, and its contentious relationship with Washington. After the Ukraine crisis in 2014, the Russia-China relationship has become stronger, with important implications for India and other rising powers. Both Russia and China are being challenged by the United States, politically, economically, and strategically.

  • Russia’s position on areas of tension in the world, whether it is Ukraine, Georgia, West Asia, Afghanistan or North Korea, appears to openly challenge U.S. predominance.
  • This tension catches India between its growing strategic partnership with the United States and its dependence on Russia for defense technological needs.

Connecting the Dots: Despite these strains, a strong India-Russia relationship is important because it gives extra maneuvering space for both countries vis-a-vis other actors.

  • India needs to rebuild on its strengths and common concerns with the Russians and also needs to deepen its scientific and technological relations with Russia since a base for this already exists.
  • Both India and Russia need to explore other avenues of cooperation, beyond defense technical cooperation to strengthen this relationship.
  • From the Indian perspective, there is scope for improvement in trade between Russia and India if the international North-South corridor through Iran and the Vladivostok-Chennai sea route can be operationalized.
  • India can benefit from hi-tech cooperation with Russia in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, outer space, and nanotechnology.

Read More: Purchase Of Russian S-400 By Turkey  |  India extends line of credit to Russia’s Far East  |  India, U.S. to hold 2+2 dialogue today

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