India and Russia are widely considered as “old strategic friends”. Certainly, their friendship has deep historical roots.
First Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had a soft corner for Fabian Socialism and that’s why he loved the erstwhile Soviet Union so much. During the Nehru regime, the two countries maintained cordial ties. Neighbouring Pakistan, too, played an important role in bolstering ties between New Delhi and Moscow by becoming a partner of America. The proximity between Pakistan and the US encouraged India to strengthen relation with Soviet Union (in a bipolar world).
The Nehru government popularised the slogan “Hindi Rusi bhai-bhai” (Indians and Russians are brothers), as the PM started considering Kremlin as New Delhi’s “all weather” friend. Since then, the global geopolitics has changed a lot. But, the Indo-Russian friendship remained same. Both India and Russia, despite having two very different sets of interests, have taken some careful and calculated steps in order to preserve and strengthen their co-operation.
Because of its colonial past, India’s foreign policy has always been marked by a desire for autonomy. The desire prompted India to join the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) during the Cold War. At that time, Indian leaders described the country’s “non-alignment” position in global politics as “strategic autonomy”. PM Nehru and his ministers also managed to convince Kremlin that it was not possible for India (at that time) to go against America. Moscow realised New Delhi’s situation and the relationship managed to persist.
At the end of cold war, both the countries built strategic partnership on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space research. Even after the collapse of Soviet Union in December 1991, Russia had no problem in inheriting the close relationship with India. However, a sixth component – economic – has been added to the bilateral strategic partnership even as India has improved its relations with the West.
Indians’ mentality has also helped foreign policy makers in New Delhi to shape the Indo-Russian ties in the last two decades. Instead of considering Russian arms sales as a way for Moscow to capture a big market (India), Indians have always viewed Russian actions with deep sentimentality. In the past, India had welcomed the Soviet’s decision to veto any UN resolutions on Kashmir, because New Delhi considered the move as a symbol of Soviet embrace, and not as a strategic calculation. Currently, India maintains close economic and defence ties with America (and Israel). But, it is not ready to accept the term “US ally”. For New Delhi, the word “partner” is perfect.
As far as Russia is concerned, things are different. India enjoys its membership in BRICS (the association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as it reflects New Delhi’s desire to co-operate with organisations not dominated by the West. Russia’s deteriorating relations with Europe and America over Ukraine and Syria have also helped New Delhi cement its ties with Moscow.
On the contrary, Russia has always assessed its ties with India through the lens of realpolitik. Kremlin is well aware of the fact that India, as a booming economy, is an ideal strategic partner of Russia in (South) Asia. For Moscow, the only cause of concern is China. Due to the Sino-Indian rivalry in Asia, Russia has no other option, but to play a balancing game. That’s why Moscow is trying hard to normalise ties between India and China. A healthy Sino-Indian relation will make it easier for Russia to take on the West.
In the current global geopolitical scenario, India can help Russia stabilise its economy. Russia is under tremendous pressure because of Western sanctions. The falling oil prices and overall fiscal mismanagement have made the situation worst. As Russia generates around 50% of its budget revenues by selling oil and gas, the falling oil prices have prompted Moscow to find new markets. With India gradually becoming the world’s third largest consumer of petroleum products (after China and the US), the South Asian country has emerged as a promising market for Russian oil producers.
Other sectors are energy and defence. Currently, Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom sets up the second reactor at Kudankulam power plant in southern India. Two other reactors are also under construction. These projects will not only help India diversify its energy sources, but also help Russia earn foreign currency. Russia has lost some of its long-time arms sales markets in the last couple of years. Now, its only hope is India, thanks to the India-Pakistan rivalry. Russia is not at all afraid of India’s friendships with Israel and America only because of New Delhi’s love for Russian small and large weaponry. India believes that Russian aircraft carriers, submarines and fighter planes make its armed forces more stable, powerful. India’s dependency on Russian defence equipment comes as a huge relief for Moscow.
So, the bilateral relationship will not fade in near future. Chief Executive of Rostec State Corporation Sergei Chemezov rightly said: “Russia is a friend, an ally and not a business partner. Russia stood by India during its darkest hours. In 2017, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. It is a long time.” Now, it is up to Russia to exploit India’s positive feelings towards it and make the friendship stronger.
Boundless Ocean of Politics on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/boundlessoceanofpolitics/
Boundless Ocean of Politics on Google Plus: