International

Understanding Dynamics Of India-Russia Relations

India and Russia share a longstanding relationship that dates back to the Soviet era, spanning over seven decades. On April 12, 1947, Russia opened its Embassy in New Delhi—notably even before India’s independence. Since then, India and Russia have maintained a strong and multifaceted partnership based on shared strategic interests, historical ties, and mutual respect. Today, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership encompasses cooperation in various fields, including defence, energy, space, and culture. Despite the strong relationship between India and Russia, there have been some challenges in recent years. Russia’s close ties with India’s archrival, China, are seen by New Delhi as a potential threat to India’s security interests. Additionally, India’s growing ties with the United States have raised concerns in Moscow. In this article, we are going to analyse the evolving dynamics of the India-Russia relationship amidst changing new realities.

Also Read, The Ukraine Conflict: Prospects of a Nuclear War.

KEY PILLARS OF INDIA RUSSIA RELATIONSHIP

DEFENCE COOPERATION

SIPRI report.
India remains the largest buyer of Russian defence hardware. ( Picture Courtesy – AL Jazeera)

Defence cooperation has been the cornerstone of the India-Russia relationship, with Russia being a major supplier of military equipment to India. The two countries have collaborated on a range of defence projects, including the BrahMos missile system, Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets, and the T-90S tanks. India’s one of the two aircraft carrier in operation, INS Vikramaditya, is also a Soviet-era Kiev-class carrier ship. The recent addition to this list is the agreement to manufacture AK-203 rifles in India along with the transfer of technology. India’s acquisition of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia is a testament to the strength of their defence partnership. As per a report published by SIPRI, Russia remains India’s largest arms supplier even though its share of indian defence import fell from 62% to 45% between 2017-2022. Denial of the right to supply defence hardware by the West, coupled with flexible transfer of technology by the Soviets during the Cold War era, were the primary causes that laid the foundation of the Indo-Russian defence partnership.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COOPERATION

India and Russia have a long history of cooperation in the field of science and technology. The two countries have been collaborating in the fields of space exploration, nuclear energy, biotechnology, and other areas of mutual interest. In 1988, India and the Soviet Union signed a cooperation agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This laid the foundation for a long-term partnership in the nuclear field. In 2008, India and Russia signed a landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement that allows Russia to build and supply nuclear reactors and fuel for India’s growing nuclear power programme. One of the major agreements between India and Russia in the nuclear sector is the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) project in Tamil Nadu. In 2018, India and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the construction of six more nuclear reactors in India.

india russia nuclear plant
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant

India and Russia have a long-standing history of space cooperation, dating back to the 1960s. Over the years, the two countries have collaborated on several space projects, including satellite launches, remote sensing, and space exploration. India’s first communication satellite, Aryabhata, was launched with the help of the Soviet Union in 1975. In 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to travel to space aboard a Soviet spacecraft. Both countries have also collaborated on the INSAT and GSAT series of satellites. These satellites provide communication and remote sensing services to India and neighbouring countries. In 2008, India launched its first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, in collaboration with Russia. Both the countries have also signed an agreement to collaborate on a manned spaceflight programme named Gaganyaan. In 2019, four Indian Air Force pilots were sent to Russia for space training and will be sent to space under the Gaganyaan programme with Russia’s assistance.

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP

India and Russia have described their relationship as a “strategic partnership” since 2000. This partnership is based on shared interests in regional security and stability, as well as a commitment to promoting a multipolar world order. Both countries regularly consult on issues related to global security and have worked together to address regional conflicts such as the situation in Afghanistan. From the exchange of critical technologies to backing on core issues, both countries navigated the thick and thin of geopolitics. Russia has always been at the forefront when it comes to diplomatic support on the Kashmir issue. It provides India with the luxury of a veto at will at the UNSC whenever Pakistan tries to table resolutions against India on Kashmir despite not being a permanent member. India, on the other hand, backed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and even avoided overt criticism of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

Russia backs India for a permanent seat at the UNSC.

The Indo-Russian strategic partnership is also supplemented by historic ties and the famous 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, when Soviet nuclear submarines guarded the Indian coast from the UK and US nuclear fleets. Even recently, Russia published its new foreign policy strategy paper, in which it recognised India as its main ally on global issues. Apart from bilateral partnerships, both countries also engage in several multilateral platforms like SCO, BRICS, the UN, and the G20. India has backed Russia on several occasions on these platforms through its vote, while Russia too backs India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC. The two countries have a similar approach to international affairs and cooperate closely on regional and global issues, including the fight against terrorism, the promotion of global peace and stability, and the reform of the international system.

POST UKRAINE CONFLICT

CHANGE IN INDIA’S ENERGY OUTLOOK

Since the Ukraine conflict started on February 24, 2022, the world has stared at an immense threat to its energy security. Russia, a major energy supplier, being sanctioned and thrown out of the SWIFT system disrupts the global energy market. As an aftermath, the price of crude oil shot up from $70–80 per barrel to $120 per barrel in the initial months. This came as a shock to import-dependent countries, especially the developing bloc. India, being the world’s third-largest oil-consuming and -importing nation, was no exception. India, being dependent on imports for 85.5% of its crude oil demands, was adversely affected by exorbitant oil rates. India’s import bill for crude oil doubled from $62.2 billion in 2020–21 to $119 billion in 2021–22.

Indo Russia trade

To mitigate skyrocketing import bills and rising inflation, India decided to buy Russian crude oil despite western pressure. Russia, aware of the sheer size and need of the Indian oil market, grabbed the opportunity and offered crude oil at discounted rates. Soon, trade between India and sanctions-hit Russia touched $35 billion. Russia leapfrogged to become India’s 5th largest trade partner, rising from the 25th spot in FY22. This increase in trade volume has been due to a fivefold increase in imports to $32.81 billion. The lion’s share of this import accounted for discounted Russian crude oil. India imported 40% of its total crude oil in February 2023, making Russia the largest crude oil supplier, surpassing Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

RESISTING WESTERN PRESSURE

Ever since the Ukraine conflict started, India has been the centre of attention for the west. Initially, because of their expectations that India would follow suit in criticising Russia, But to everyone’s surprise, India refused to jump on the bandwagon and instead prioritised its own national interests. India not bending under pressure didn’t go down well with western imperial powers. This irked many western policymakers, as they started accusing India of funding the Ukrainian war. India, being a sovereign state, resisted the pressure and bought the best deal available in the market for its energy supplies. The rationale given by India was its legitimate energy concerns. India, being a developing country, can’t keep up with rising crude oil prices as it would disrupt its entire budget calculations. Therefore, despite rebukes from the west, India kept on buying discounted Russian oil.

INDIA’S FOREIGN MINISTER EXPOSES WESTERN HYPOCRACY ON BUYING DISCOUNTED CRUDE OIL FROM RUSSIA.

India also exposed the Western hypocrisy of buying Russian gas despite sanctions and yet blaming India for supporting Russia. Europe even followed the precondition laid down by Russia to buy its gas for rebels, which neutralised the adverse effects of western sanctions and stabilised the Russian ruble. This move proved to be a strategic masterstroke by President Putin. Soon, the Russian ruble became the best-performing currency in the world in FY 22. The Russian ruble soared 45% against the dollar, outperforming every other currency in the world. The Russian ruble rose to 54.47 in June 2022—a far cry from the 139 to the dollar when it was hit by the sanctions in March.

The sheer futility of western sanctions coupled with rising global inflation has started persuading western allies to rethink their policies. Recently, Japan, a US ally, decided to ditch G-7 sanctions and buy Russian oil above the cap price of $60 per barrel. This further augmented India’s stance regarding its oil purchases. Though there is growing sensitivity regarding legitimate energy concerns among nations, India will still be targeted in the near future. The impact of this will also be seen in future Indo-Russian cooperation in other sectors. Till now, India has been successful in walking a tightrope trying to balance its relationship with Russia and the West, but the future will come with its own uncertainties.

BALANCING RUSSIA-CHINA AXIS

One of the implicit reasons behind India’s economic exchanges with Russia despite sanctions is China. Since its inception, both India and China are the only major countries that have avoided criticising Russia for the Ukrainian conflict. China’s motivation is purely political; it needs Russia to stand against the US and its allies. Moreover, like Russia, China too plans to invade Taiwan. And when that happens, China requires Russian backing at international forums. India’s motivation, on the other hand, is strategic. Putting aside defence and energy dependence on Russia, India can’t lose Russia to China. There is a very limpid understanding among Indian policymakers that abandoning Russia now only means pushing it closer to China. Russia is already heavily dependent on China regarding trade and investment; pushing it further would mean India losing an age-old ally and a major regional power.

A strong China-Russia axis is a strategic nightmare for India. And to avert this nightmare, India made sure that Russia’s economy remained afloat despite sanctions. An economically stable Russia is in India’s favour, as it would keep Russia neutral towards India and China. India had already missed the train on Russia being overtly supportive of India against China. The only thing it could do now is ensure Russia doesn’t completely become dependent on China. Though many geopolitical experts believe that Russia has already become a junior ally in the China-Russia partnership. In FY 2022, their trade soared by 29.3%, reaching US$190.27 billion as opposed to US$35 billion in Indo-Russian trade. Exports from Russia to China grew by 43.4% to US$114.15 billion, while exports from China to Russia increased by 12.8% to US$76.12 billion. By FY 23, it is expected that their trade may rise to roughly US$237 billion.

SOARING RUSSIA-CHINA TRADE.

Like India, China too is availing itself of discounted Russian energy supplies. LNG supplies from Russia increased by around 20%, and coal imports increased by 57% in FY 2022. Moreover, the payments are adjusted in Yuan, making it the most traded currency in Russia. Even recently, Xi visited Russia, and during this meeting, both countries claimed to have achieved a “no-limits” partnership. This raised alarms in the south block as it could pose a serious national security threat to India. The question that reverberated among policymakers was: Does the “no limit” partnership extend even to the India-China conflict? Though the Russian ambassador ridiculed such speculation as a hoax, India can’t just sit around. To make sure Russia remains neutral, India plans to continue its economic exchanges and even further widen its spectrum. Balancing the Russia-China axis amidst western pressure is going to be the ultimate test of Indian diplomacy.

Advertisement

Anmol Kaushik

Hi, I'm Anmol Kaushik, I'm currently pursuing Law (3rd year) at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (GGSIPU). I'm a defence enthusiast and a keen geopolitical observer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button
Translate »