India-Russia Relationship: Past, Present & Future

India and Russia have acquired a new self-confidence arising out of their rapid economic growth. As rising economic powers, both India and Russia are playing an increasingly larger role on the world stage.

India-Russia relationship has evolved into an equal partnership. The deep roots of this relationship go back to the early 20th century when India was under British rule and the Czars ruled Russia. The Russian Revolution of 1905 inspired Indian freedom fighters. Mahatma Gandhi was also struck by the similarity in the prevailing conditions in Russia and India. He developed a close connection with Russia and carried on lengthy correspondence with Leo Tolstoy. Russia's communist leader V.I. Lenin followed with interest and sympathy the nascent Indian freedom struggle. Following 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet leaders understood that their revolution stood better chance of success and encouraged India to become free and independent. Many Indian freedom fighters who were greatly inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution established personal contacts with the Soviet leaders. It was Pandit Nehru’s thinking, which laid foundation of the policy of the Indian National Congress towards the Soviet Union. After visiting Soviet Union in 1927, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Jawaharlal Nehru came back deeply impressed with the Soviet experiment. He was convinced that poor developing country like India needed to follow not the capitalist path but a development model that emphasized social justice, equality and human dignity. Nehru was emphatic that India must develop close and friendly relationship with the Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that even before India became independent, an official announcement was made on 13 April 1947 on the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the Soviet Union.

Nehru’s faith in the Soviet Union was immense. The Soviet Union consistently gave India valuable political, diplomatic and strategic support bilaterally as well as in international forums on Kashmir and other vital issues affecting India’s national interests. It was Soviet diplomatic backing and material support and the confidence provided by the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, which enabled India to successfully undertake the operations in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. This political understanding was underpinned by a strong economic and strategic relationship. Beginning in the 1950s, India received from the Soviet Union generous assistance for its industrialization as well as for development in the areas of defense, space and atomic energy. Short of capital, foreign exchange and technology, India appreciated the support that it received low-priced economic credits for infrastructure projects repayable in rupees; reliable affordable and good quality military supplies, also on credit and supply of crucial products like oil and oil product, fertilizer, metals etc. mostly via swap deal. Some of India’s globally competitive public sector companies like BHEL, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), as well as the steel industry in India, were set up with Soviet cooperation. The first Indian Institute of Technology set up with foreign collaboration was the one in Mumbai with the Soviet support. Soviet Union helped India in many ways to become more self-reliant and was a true partner of India.

Today, both India and Russia have acquired a new self-confidence arising out of their rapid economic growth, at the time when many developed countries are suffering from economic recession. As rising economic powers, both India and Russia are playing an increasingly larger role on the world stage. The two countries share the goal of creating a multipolar world. India values the political and diplomatic support it continues to get from Russia on vital issues. India is also happy to note that Russia is recovering economically and militarily and is reasserting itself on the international sphere. In today’s complicated and fast changing geopolitical situation, both countries have wisely diversified their foreign policy options, yet have been careful not to abandon a mutually beneficial partnership of trust built up over decades.

India-Russia cooperation is going on smoothly and steadily in various sectors. Cooperation in the defense sector is still the strongest link. Even today around 50% of the defense equipment used by the Indian defense forces is of Russian origin. India is cooperating with Russia on major defense projects such as on indigenously developed nuclear submarine Arihant, the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Off late, Russia also participated in the formation of the first group of Indian satellites for distant probing of the earth. The first launch of IRS series satellites was conducted by “Vostok” rocket. Russia has also advanced a proposal for selling the advanced MiG-35 fighter jet to the IAF. A $3.77 billion deal for the supply of 40 SU-30MKI Russian fighter aircraft to India was also signed. The agreements included proposal for procuring around 10,000 ‘Invar’ missiles, T-90 tanks and over 200 air-launched versions of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. Russia still remains India’s largest supplier of military equipment despite the entry of US and Israel, which has apparently, also became major suppliers of military hardware to India.

In the nuclear-power sector Russia has already constructed two nuclear power plants at Kudankulam in south of India under Indo-Russian Nuclear Cooperation program. Negotiations for two additional units on the same site are also going on. In the space sector too, India-Russia cooperation on Glonass is going on well. India is also trying to get Russian Technology in tracking satellites and to have a collaborative Chandrayaan II, project involving space probes to the moon.

Indo-Russian energy cooperation is also expected to get a boost in the coming years. India imports oil, mostly from the volatile region of Middle East. However, to sustain current high rate of growth, India need to secure and diversify sources of energy import. According to the International Energy Agency, India would be the third largest energy consumer in the world by 2025 after US and China. Russia, India’s trusted strategic partner is destined to play a vital role in ensuring India’s energy security in the coming decades.

The former Soviet Union played a major role in building India’s energy sector by building tens of hydropower stations, developing India’s coal industry, finding oil in Indian soil and helping in setting up India’s energy major ONGC. Indo-Russian energy cooperation acquired new dimensions in the post-Soviet period, particularly in the hydrocarbon and nuclear sector. India has invested $2.8 billion in the Sakhalin energy project, controlling 20% stakes in the venture and has purchased Imperial Energy, (London-listed oil major in Tomks region). These are India’s largest investments abroad in energy sector.

India is energy deficient country and Russia is energy surplus and therefore, a mutual interest lies in this sector. Indian side feels that there is a clear compatibility between India's needs and Russia's resources. Indian side is adopting a policy to implement the experience of Sakhalin-1 to other oilfields in Russia. India’s policy is to promote the idea of India’s willingness to offer Russian companies to participate in Indian oil and gas projects, both upstream and downstream, as well as to undertake joint exploration in other countries too. India has geared-up its energy diplomacy and is moving quickly to penetrate in the Russian energy market.

Today, the weakest link in Indo-Russian cooperation remains trade and economic ties. Trade between the two countries is extremely low. Of course, the proposal to increase this target has been announced by both the sides. Now that stringent visa regulations have eased to certain extend, the dynamic private sector companies of both the countries are engaged in boosting-up the economic partnership with each other. Private Sector in both the countries is trying to work closely to give a new direction to the economic relationship.

India and Russia have also been trying to engage each other to boost-up the economic partnership through Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Today Russia is a WTO member and it also has formed Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan to a “Common Economic Space”. Therefore, it is expected that CEPA with the broader Eurasian region might come-up soon. It is expected that Russia will also invest in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project. This project covers an area of about 400,000 and six states with a population of 178 million. This project incorporates nine mega industrial zones.

However, there are still certain issues related to inadequate banking and financial services, lack of brand promotion, removal of discrimination in insurance coverage and quality control concerns are coming-up as a stumbling block in Indo-Russian economic cooperation. The Russian side appreciated that the simplified visa regime for Russian citizens being implemented by the Indian side and this move had contributed to a 24% increase in Russian tourists travelling to India in the year 2011-12 as compared to the earlier years. India and Russia are also trying to collaborate on new areas which need to be explored further, like in the area of democratisation process, social policy diffusion, in religious dialogues, in promoting secularism, tolerance, multi-ethnicity, for developments of internal economic management and planning etc. which are all significant areas for both India and Russia and could be addressed together.

Russia’s preference for multipolarity and encouragement for the promotion of groupings like RIC (Russia-India-China), BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), as well as SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) is intended to create a forum outside the Western block where India and Russia along with other countries can discuss issues without western pressure. Amidst all these positive developments as well as certain concerns, there is a hope that India-Russia friendship and the strategic partnership will scale new heights and it will grow, thrive and blossom in the coming years.

Nonetheless, there is a need to create wider public interest and understanding for developing the relationship, particularly among the increasingly influential younger generations. Without strong public support, it will be difficult to provide greater depth, a sound foundation and long-term stability to this mutually beneficial strategic partnership. There is no substitute for spontaneous and natural people-to people exchanges. India and Russia will need to build direct contacts with the entire spectrum of stakeholders and interest groups in the political, economic, military and other spheres. Today, India-Russia relationship has many positive dimensions and can move on steadily. India’s connections with other former Soviet States specially with the two distinct parts of Central Eurasia i.e. five states of Central Asia and three States of South Caucasus is also significant and the relationship is developing significantly over the past two decades since these countries got their independence.

India-Russia Civil Nuclear Cooperation

India-Russia Civil Nuclear Cooperation Reaffirmed that cooperation on peaceful use of nuclear energy and cooperation in nuclear sector is significant for Russia-India strategic partnership. India-Russia civil nuclear cooperation while long-standing has not been without its ups and downs, however, both the Nations decided to accelerate bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation. The cooperation in this sector depends much on the manner in which both the Nations conduct their bilateral diplomacy. The two sides welcomed progress in identifying the sites in India for additional nuclear reactor units to be set up in cooperation with Russia. Both the sides agreed to actively work towards localisation of manufacturing in India under the “Make in India”, mission and in continuation with the series of construction of nuclear power plants. It appears that potential sites have been offered in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. It is learnt that President Putin has plans to sell as many as 25 nuclear reactors to India through Russia's state-owned energy giant, Rosatom. The pace of both the countries cooperation in nuclear energy is increasing. At present, both the countries are progressing on fulfilling the plans for 12 Russian nuclear reactors at two sites. The recent agreement will increase Indian manufacturing content in these reactors. Unit-II of the Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu, will be commissioned soon and the negotiations are at an advanced staged for units III and IV. Both the sides welcomed the action for localization between RosAtom of Russia and the Department of Atomic Energy of India.

Overall India Russia-Nuclear cooperation agreement includes:

a) Transfer of nuclear power reactors;
b) Fuel supply agreement for both supplied reactors and other reactors operating in India, including both natural uranium and enriched uranium;
c) Right to process spent fuel;
d) Fuel supply assurance under all circumstances;
e) In principle, agreement to transfer reprocessing technology and enriched technology.

Both India and Russia reaffirmed their intention to expand the scope of such collaboration and avail the opportunities for expanding mutual capabilities.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.