India-Russia: Privileged Strategic Partnership?

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi arrived in St. Petersburg on June 1 to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Leaders of the two countries will discuss steps to build up mutual trade, expand cultural and humanitarian cooperation.

According to С. Raja Mohan, Director of Carnegie India, the challenge for the two leaders is to navigate a period of extraordinary turbulence in great power relations and ensure that mutual confidence and trust developed between the two countries over the last many decades is not shattered by tactical moves by either side in other directions.

"Today, the tensions between Washington and Moscow and the deepening embrace between China and Russia are of concern to India. Delhi believes that President Putin values the partnership with India and will not let downgrade the partnership. Moscow should know that PM Modi sees India as an independent actor on the world stage and will not let his outreach to America hurt the Russian interests in Asia and the Indian Ocean, "said C. Raja Mohan in an interview with

It is hardly possible to select a priority sphere in Russian-Indian cooperation, be it military or economic, said Valdai Club expert Nandan Unnikrishnan, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

"Military production is also part of the economy. For two countries that have a “privileged, strategic partnership” all aspects of their relationship should be important – political, strategic, economic, and cultural" said Indian expert in interview with

Relations between Russia, China and Pakistan in the context of Russian-Indian partnership

According to Nandan Unnikrishnan, no country should object to another country’s collaboration with a third country if it does not affect its strategic interests. "If Russian military sales to Pakistan or China do not upset the existing balance of power of these countries with India then India should not object. Similarly, if India is seeking a closer military relationship with the United States it should not be a matter of concern to Russia as long as Russia’ strategic balance vis-à-vis the US is not upset", the expert said.

However, it must be noted that while Russia and the US do not have currently any direct territorial dispute, that is not the case with China and Pakistan vis-à-vis India. "India has a direct long standing dispute with these two countries, which effectively makes them India’s enemies. Therefore, it is natural that Russia’s collaboration with them is a matter of intense concern for India", the expert noted.

"Russia clearly has a pragmatic leadership which would not want to jeopardise a multi-billion dollar relationship with India for a few million dollars' deals with Pakistan. As for China, it is natural for Russia to want to sell weapons, because that window may close after another couple of years given China’s advances in developing its own technologies. But, that does not mean that India has to like it", the expert said.

Cooperation in the Arctic

Nandan Unnikrishnan recalled, that president Vladimir Putin in an article to Indian media wrote that “the possibilities for the participation of Indian companies in joint hydrocarbons exploration and production projects in the Russian Arctic shelf are currently under consideration”.

"India certainly is exploring the possibilities of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic region. Currently, the focus is primarily on two areas – natural resources and transport connections. India is also an observer in the Arctic Council and would be interested in being actively involved in the work of this organization", the expert said.

According to C. Raja Mohan, over the last decade and more India has closely followed the developments in the Arctic region amidst the new opportunities and challenges emerging for the international community. There is special concern about the melting of the Arctic ice cap and its environmental, economic and strategic consequences. "Russia is of course a major littoral county of the Arctic and is a natural partner for India. During their last meeting at the end of 2016, Prime Minister Modi and President Putin had discussed the prospect for participation of the Indian companies in the development of the energy resources of the Arctic shelf. The two leaders should take that discussion forward for a more comprehensive and strategic collaboration in the Arctic",the expert said.

Cooperation in the fight against terrorism

India and Russia have very similar and long-standing understanding of terrorism and how it should be tackled. But, recently some tactical differences appear in the context of Afghanistan.  "However, the two countries have a history of cooperating on Afghanistan and should be able to overcome their differences. Another important aspect to keep in mind is that we are going through a period of great uncertainty in international affairs. So, the appearance of differences is not surprising. What is important is to have frank discussions about these differences to narrow them down and not let them undermine the overall partnership," Nandan Unnikrishnan concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.