India-Russia Partnership – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

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TOPIC: General Studies 2

In News: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Delhi saw both he and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reaffirming traditional India-Russia ties, but there were signs that those ties are being tested. Mr. Lavrov’s trip was to make preparations for the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin for the annual summit — it was postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Current Relations between India and Russia

On the bilateral front, both sides appeared to make progress on strategic cooperation, cooperation in energy, nuclear and space sectors, and on talks on a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Also discussed were more agreements on military-technical cooperation for the joint production of India-made Russian weapons, with Mr. Lavrov highlighting Russia being the only partner supplying India “cutting-edge military technology”. 

While neither side referred to the upcoming delivery of the $5 billion S-400 missile defence system directly, they reaffirmed their commitment to their defence partnership, as well as avenues for more investment in connectivity including the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chennai-Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor

The areas of divergence 

  • Over their worldview specific reference to the “rebalanced nature” of international relations. Mr. Lavrov’s praise of Russia-China ties was clearly not shared by Mr. Jaishankar. While he referred repeatedly to India’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy, Mr. Lavrov preferred the more continental reference to the “Asia-Pacific” region. 
  • Mr. Lavrov’s derisive indirect reference to the Quad as an “Asian NATO” was significant, although he said both sides agreed that military alliances in Asia were inadvisable and counterproductive. 
  • On Afghanistan as well, the Russian push for bringing the Taliban into a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul seemed to come up against India’s consistent push for a “democratic Afghanistan”.
  • Unlike in 2012, Mr. Lavrov this time said that Russia was ready to strengthen Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts with the supply of “relevant equipment”, which will raise eyebrows in Delhi. While in Pakistan, Lavrov said Russia sees Pakistan as an “important friend”, seeks to continue exercises called ‘friendship druzhba’ and is willing to supply Pakistan high-tech or specialised military equipment to fight terrorism.

Beyond these divergences, Lavrov also did not get an audience with PM Modi on the pretext that the former was campaigning in West Bengal.

India’s reliance on Russia for military supplies

Over 80 per cent of India’s military hardware is still Russian. In fact, if India goes to war with anybody right now, all the tanks will be regimes that will be T-72s and T-90s. Two-thirds of combat Indian Air Force will be of Russian origin which are Sukhois and the various MiGs. India’s dependence on Moscow for weapons is a vulnerability that the Indian decision makers need to take more seriously.

Although a nuclear-powered submarine has been routinely leased to India by Russia, the growing India-France relationship for military supplies may change this. Meanwhile, Russia’s dependence on China now is extreme as China is a market for a lot of Russian military technology. Moscow’s political compulsion to support China is a warning that New Delhi should heed. Moscow has increasingly leaned on China both for support as well as a way to undermine American power. The military relationship between the two has become increasingly close: in addition to conventional weapons, Russia is also helping China set up its missile early warning system, one of the most sensitive bits of technology for any nuclear power. Particularly striking is what has primarily been an arms supply relationship has become increasingly broader, at least from Moscow’s perspective.

The Way Forward

While there is no denying divergences in the relationship, both sides still have significant areas of cooperation — in the bilateral, regional and global arenas — which must be harnessed. Thus, taking a long-term view of the situation, as India develops ties with other like-minded powers to deal with the rise of China, it must also strengthen its special, privileged strategic partnership with Russia.

While both India and Russia will continue to pursue their respective trajectories in world affairs, coordination on mutually beneficial issues will be vital in this period of flux in the global system. In this regard, India shared its views on the Indo-Pacific, where Russia has significant reservations. While differences persist, a frank discussion offers the opportunity to avoid misinterpretation of intentions and allows for exploration of potential areas of cooperation.

Looking at the broader context of Russian foreign policy and pragmatically assessing the bilateral ties offers India a chance to focus on promoting mutual interests.


While India and Russia have successfully addressed divergences between them, even deep, traditional and “time-tested relations” of the kind they have shared for decades cannot be taken for granted, and the two sides should move quickly, if they desire to dispel the notion that those ties are under any strain.

The lack of Russian understanding of and appreciation for India’s security concerns especially in the wake of the Galwan crisis will continue to be an issue. That Russia fails to demonstrate any sensitivity to India’s security concerns about China and that it continues to bat for Beijing has been surprising.

Like all international partnerships, including India-Russia relations, the China-Russia partnership is one of convenience. But the conditions that gave rise to it are unlikely to change in the near future. Indian policy should acknowledge this and adjust accordingly.

Connecting the Dots

  1. China is likely to continue as a sore spot in the India-Russia relationship. Critically examine.

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