By: Dr Rajan Kumar
Dr Rajan Kumaris an Associate Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
Indo-Russian relationship flourished during the Cold War period when India drew closer to the Soviet Union for ideological, geostrategic and economic reasons. The Soviet Union supported India’s industrialisation, supplied military hardware, provided a diplomatic cover at the United Nations Security Council, and stood firmly in war with Pakistan in 1971.
The story of relationship between India and Russia is unparalleled in the history of international politics. Rarely do we find states which are so distinct in terms of culture, history and political systems, yet they share a bond marked by high mutual trust, admiration and sensitivity towards each other. It is not merely the inter-state engagement, but a deep sense of solicitude and appreciation rooted in the hearts and minds of people which makes this partnership special. Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed this sentiment in Brazil in 2014, when he recounted, “If you ask anyone among the more than one billion people living in India, who is our country’s best friend, every person, every child knows that it is Russia.”
This relationship flourished during the Cold War period when India drew closer to the Soviet Union for ideological, geostrategic and economic reasons. The Soviet Union supported India’s industrialisation, supplied military hardware and stood firmly with India at all international platforms.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, this treaty lost its relevance and was replaced by the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation of 1993, which had none of the security provisions of the previous treaty. This was a period when both India and Russia were trying to forge close ties with the US. A new phase began with the signing of Strategic Partnership Treaty during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Delhi in 2000, which was elevated to India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in 2010. They signed a joint statement, “Druzhba-Dosti: A Vision for strengthening the Indian- Russian partnership over the next decade.”
As a part of the strategic agreement, they hold Annual Summit meeting since 2000. This demonstrates the level of significance they assign to each other. There are two India-Russia Inter-governmental Commissions: Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) headed by the External Affairs Minister of India and the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, and; Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC- MTC) headed by the Defence Ministers of the respective countries.
In addition to vibrant bilateral mechanisms, they are members of exclusive multilateral institutions— the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). The BRICS has successfully created two crucial institutions, the New Development Bank and Contingent Reserve Arrangement. These institutions seek to undercut the influence of the World Bank and the IMF, which are dominated by the Western states. India is also negotiating with the Eurasian Economic Union on the creation of a free trade zone.
India and Russia have enabled a conducive environment for economic investment. They set up an investment target of USD 30 billion by 2025. However, they surpassed this target before time. Russia’s investments in India in 2017 were USD 18 billion, and India’s investment in Russia was USD 13 billion. The new investment target is USD 50 billion by 2025. The bilateral trade between the two countries, despite a massive potential, was still limping around USD 10.69 billion in 2017-18. This is abysmally low compared to India’s trade with the US which stood at USD 142 billion, and with China at USD 95 billion in 2018. India and Russia have set up a trade target of USD 30 billion by 2025.
A new phase began with the signing of Strategic Partnership Treaty during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Delhi in 2000, which was elevated to India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in 2010. They signed a joint statement, “Druzhba-Dosti: A Vision for strengthening the Indian-Russian partnership over the next decade.”
India has invested nearly USD 8 billion in various companies and projects such as Imperial Energy (Tomsk), Sakhalin-1 oilfield, Volzhsky Abrasive Works (Volgograd) and a few other companies. In 2017, Rosneft, a Russian oil company, supported by other investors, bought 98 percent shares of Essar Oil Ltd of India costing USD 12.9 billion. A consortium of Indian oil companies, Oil India Limited, Indian Oil Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroresources struck a deal on buying 29.9 percent of Taas-Yuryah Neftegazdobycha Ltd. Indian public companies bought 49.9 percent of Vankorneft shares, one of the Rosneft largest oil enterprises.
Russia started supplying LNG to India as a part of a contract between Gazprom and GAIL. The investment opportunities between the two countries have improved significantly. Russia has launched a “single window service” in 2018 to encourage hasslefree investment in Russia. However, investors from both sides often complain about bureaucratic hurdles which need to be addressed urgently to achieve the ambitious target.
Transporting goods from India to Russia becomes difficult in the absence of direct transport connectivity. To address this issue, they are working on International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, road and rail for transporting goods between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. Chabahar port of Iran, developed by India,is a significant part of the INSTC project.
As a part of civil nuclear cooperation, Russia has helped India in the construction of several nuclear power units at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Rosatom of Russia worked jointly for this project. The first two units are already operational, while Unit 3 and Unit 4 are under construction. Contracts for Unit 5 and 6 have been signed. A total of 12 nuclear power units are to be constructed with Russian assistance in the next few years.
Defence cooperation is the most crucial component of India’s relation with Russia. India has sought to diversify its defence purchases in the recent years, but even now India’s defence forces are heavily dependent on arms and weapons supplied by Russia. Nearly 60 to 70 percent of defence purchases are from Russia. A positive development is that they are now jointly developing and producing sophisticated weapons. BrahMos missile system is the best example of successful joint production. They are also collaborating in joint design and development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircrafts. Other successful examples are licensed production of Sukhoi-30 MKI and T-90 tanks. A Russian-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, was inducted in the Indian Navy in 2013. India signed a deal with Russia in October 2018 to procure a batch of the S-400 Triumf missile defence systems for USD 5 billion.
During successive summit meetings, the two countries have signed several deals related to nuclear energy, hydrocarbons, a joint production of helicopters, space technology, investment in Russian Far East, education, culture and scientific exchange programme. Russia agreed to simplify the visa regulations for the diplomats and business people. Terrorism is another area where they share their concerns and have signed several agreements to counter this global menace. Finally, India needs to revive its soft-power footprints which were prevalent during the Soviet period. Bollywood, yoga, culture, dance, music, sports and Indian cuisine find a wide appeal among Russian population. They need to be promoted through non-official channels. Cultural and educational exchange programmes require more resources and support. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Russia as a Chief Guest at Far East Economic Forum from 4-6 September 2019 in Vladivostok, both countries look forward to reinforcing the existing ties, and open new vistas of economic and security cooperation between them.