In Bishkek, the Prime Minister of India met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the SCO Summit to strengthen bilateral relations. He accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to be the Chief Guest for the Eastern Economic Forum which is scheduled on early September at Vladivostok. Both Moscow and New Delhi enjoyed a ‘special and privileged’ strategic partnership since December 2010. History and strategic considerations still bind both countries. Moscow played an instrumental role in defending India’s territorial integrity and strategic autonomy in world forums. Moscow has consistently stood by India on vital issues at crucial times.
During the Soviet period, India enjoyed “time-tested” friendship with Moscow that was unprecedented in International politics, calling Kashmir an “internal” issue. In his visit to India, the Secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev stated, “We are so near that if ever you call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side.” India received substantial assistance both in infrastructure projects and defense from Soviet Union. The first steel plant, Bhilai, was established with Soviet collaboration in 1955. The 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation laid a vital foundation for deepening mutual cooperation. This friendship treaty had acted as a ‘psychological deterrent’ against the axis of Pak-Beijing-Washington.
In the post-Soviet period, bilateral cooperation has undergone significant changes and, in October 2000, India regained geo-strategic importance in Putin’s Russia. The 'Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership' was signed as an institutionalized dialogue in order to restore its congenial cooperation with India. Re-asserting the changing global order, Putin stated: “Both we and our Indian partners have to take into consideration the fact that the world has changed, Russia has changed, the balance of forces in the world has changed and so have some of our priorities.” Moscow has voiced its unflinching support for India’s permanent security member in UNSC. Both countries decided to further deepen their strategic partnership in the sectors of energy, defense, and cultural linkages. Moscow agreed to increase India’s presence in resource-rich Far-East Russia in the backdrop of India’s Look East policy. Russia seeks to explore its Far-East region through the involvement of India’s manpower. India reiterated its commitment by saying that “We look forward to increased trade and people-to-people linkages with Russia”.
Both India and Russia must move beyond “buyer-seller” relationship. Simultaneously, India seeks to expand its outreach to Central Asia through the SCO platform with bilateral collaboration of Moscow. New Delhi will benefit from SCO's non-protectionist trade. Both leaders ware concerned about widening energy partnership amid growing tensions in Gulf. Last Year, New Delhi and Moscow signed a $5 billion S-400 air defense system, known as the most advanced Russia’s missile defense system. The Trump Administration has threatened New Delhi that this defense deal would adverse impact on US- Indo relations. At the same time, the US assured India that it would provide its latest technology to meet India’s defense need.
India should dilute the new emerging triangle China-Pakistan-Russia by moving closer towards Moscow. India requires Moscow’s support for the international North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). It is a land-and sea-based 7,200-km long network comprising rail, road and water routes. It will work as alternative route which increase trade connectivity with Russia, Iran and former Soviet Union Republics. It will reduce transport costs and time between Eurasia and India. This corridor is somewhat parallel to China’s ‘One Belt one Road’ strategy.
Economically and geopolitically, Iran is crucial for India. Tehran is considered as ‘gateway’ and provides a corridor to Central Asia. Importing crude oil from Iran is less costly and more proximate than any other alternative sources. Additionally, Iran’s Chabahar port is crucial for India. It provides viable trade and transit corridors between New Delhi, Tehran and Kabul. Subsequently, it will reduce dependency on Pakistan. It is also useful to connect to the planned International North-South Transport Corridor.
US protectionism has threatened the regional security and derailed the global financial order. Beijing and Moscow have raised voices against the unilateral protectionism. Trade war has begun between China and US and India became the new target with the termination of GSP (General System of Preference). India seeks to increase its engagement with Eurasia and was included as a full member of the SCO in 2017. A China-led SCO is significant for India due to economic and geopolitical reasons as New Delhi seeks to enhance economic cooperation with the Eurasian states.
India and Russia diversify their orientation, but history and strategic considerations still bind the two nations. India’s changing strategic orientation is a matter of concern for Russia. Russia’s defense import sharply declined from 79 % to 62% from 2013 to 2017. During the same period, United States increased its defense exports to New Delhi by five times. On the other hand, the growing Moscow–Beijing strategic partnership has increased security consequences for New Delhi. The emerging oil and gas agreement is another illustration of evolving strategic partnership between Russia and China. Additionally, Russia’s growing inclination towards Islamabad is another noteworthy point for India. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov acknowledges increased defense cooperation between Russia and Pakistan.
Despite the emerging trust deficit, Russia is still a reliable defense trade partner. The S-400 air defense system deal was signed by Russia and India amid the threat of the US’s countering America’s Adversaries through Sanction Act (CAATSA). Moscow is critically significant to increase India's economic development. Additionally, a financial mechanism was developed in which Indian rupees will be applicable rather than US dollars. The Indo-Russian business fraternity is looking forward to strengthening bilateral trade. Both nation-states have shown deep commitments to achieve $30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025. Both nations are inseparable in many aspects. Russia has re-emerged in world affairs under the Putin leadership. That’s why Russia matter to India.
Dr. Sandeep Tripathi is a Doctorate in International Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.