Expanding India’s engagement envelope with Russia

Beyond existing fields such as defence and energy, there are other areas which can help deepen their links

Published - December 07, 2021 12:02 am IST

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an exchange of agreements event after the India-Russia Annual Summit in Benaulim, in the western state of Goa, India, October 15, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an exchange of agreements event after the India-Russia Annual Summit in Benaulim, in the western state of Goa, India, October 15, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for the 21st India-Russia Summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights the constant efforts by both leaders to nurture and to provide further impetus to the ‘India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’. In the new grammar of multipolarity and globalisation, it is of utmost importance for dependable partners to ensure enduring sensitivity to their mutual interests.

Strategic partnership

More importantly, the robust partnership between India and Russia has come out of the shackles of the Cold War inheritance. A practical and result-oriented approach will pave the way for the most reliable partnership. The Putin-Modi meeting in an atmosphere of unprecedented regional and global transformations can ensure not only a new lease of life but can also generate more vitality to this trustworthy camaraderie.

India-Russia relations have withstood the test of time and the ever-shifting nature of national interests. Relations between the two countries have deepened with time irrespective of the quagmire of realpolitik. This exceptional resilience is built on the firm foundation of strategic national interest and the synergy of geopolitics.

In the post-Cold War era, India has emerged as an economic powerhouse and a key stakeholder in today’s global debate be it climate change, international trade, or the menace of terrorism. Russia with its global status and presence presents a win-win situation for deeper cooperation. This relation between both countries has evolved with time, deepening the integration and widening the breadth of the relation.

A structure in place

Russia has been one of India’s closest friends and allies with the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 which unlocked new opportunities in strategic, science and technology, space, energy, nuclear ties, trade and commerce, culture and a people-to-people connect. For smooth functioning of this strategic partnership, it was governed by an institutionalised dialogue mechanism involving key stakeholders at the political and official levels. Mr. Putin’s visit to India in December 2010 heralded a new chapter in India-Russia relations when the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.

Convergence and divergence

India and Russia have much convergence spanning different sectors. Russia is the key and principal supplier of arms and armaments to the Indian armed forces accounting for over 60% of weapons. It comprises the whole gamut covering the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. India recently inducted the S-400 Triumf missile systems. Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft, T-90 tanks, and the Talwar and the Krivak class stealth frigates are key weapons in the armoury of the Indian armed forces. The India-Russia defence cooperation has evolved from a buyer-seller model to new areas of military-technical collaboration. The BrahMos missile system was a successful collaboration of joint research, development, and production. Science and technology, nuclear, energy, space have been key driving forces. But changes in interests and capabilities being fuelled by geopolitical differences are widening the divergence between India and Russia. In terms of geostrategy, Russia is aligned with China and India is more anchored toward the United States. This dissonance was apparent in the Indian and Russian approach over Afghanistan.

Bilateral trade has seen the two countries progressing from defence and energy to IT, pharmaceuticals, agro-industries, mineral and metallurgy, fertilizers, and infrastructure projects. India-Russia trade was valued at the U.S.$10.11 billion in 2019–20, but is not a true reflection of the potential that can be harnessed.

Stability and diversity

The ‘2+2’ mechanism has become the standard framework of cooperation to widen collaboration. The inaugural ‘2+2’ dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the two countries promises to provide new vitality to the special and privileged strategic partnership. The uniqueness of this approach not only ensures result-oriented cooperation but also deliberates upon regional and global matters of mutual concerns and interests. At a time when global politics is in a state of flux, it becomes more important to have compatibility with geopolitical and geoeconomic realities along with the trust of the leadership. Therefore, this evolving political framework provides the necessary agility to the relationship in fine-tuning their differences and deepening their bonds. The Modi-Putin meeting has sent the unambiguous signal to the world that the India-Russia partnership is an incredible friendship ensuring stability and diversity.

Defence, trade and investment, energy, and science and technology may be part of the agenda, but India and Russia need to work together in a trilateral manner or using other flexible frameworks, particularly in Southeast Asia and Central Asia. Their growing collaboration can be a force of stability and will bring more diversity to the region while strengthening multilateralism.

Second, the two countries also need to look at peoples’ power — youth exchanges as well as deeper links in various fields including sport, culture, spiritual and religious studies.

Finally, Buddhism can be an area where both countries can expand their interaction, where peace and sustainability can act as a balm in this turbulent world.

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy is Associate Professor at Nalanda University, Rajgir, Bihar. The views expressed are personal

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