Think Tank
Russia and India in the G20: Privileged Partnership and the Proximity of Strategic Culture
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On April 7, the Valdai Club, in partnership with leading Indian think tanks, held an expert discussion on “Russian-Indian Relations During India's G20 Presidency”. Oleg Barabanov, the programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, acted as moderator.

Marat Berdyev, ambassador-at-large of the Russian Foreign Ministry, G20 Sous-Sherpa of Russia, described relations between Russia and India as a particularly privileged strategic partnership. He stressed the age and strength of Russian-Indian relations and the closeness of the positions of the two countries. Russia and India are jointly seeking to dismantle neo-colonial practices, advocate a multilateral world order and believe that the voice of developing countries should be adequately reflected both in the system of global economic governance and in international relations. Russia supports India's bid for permanent member status in the UN Security Council. Speaking about the Indian G20 presidency, he noted that it had a good start. India has proposed a unifying agenda, which is what is needed in the face of confrontation and continued bloc thinking, the diplomat said.

Nandan Unnikrishnan, Distinguished Fellow at the Indian Observer Research Foundation, acknowledged that the events of the past year have had a significant impact on Russian-Indian relations. Russia and India are being forced to deal with problems that they did not create, such as the effects of sanctions, Russia's financial isolation, and withdrawal from Western systems. Reviewing the bilateral international relations that the two countries have, Unnikrishnan noted that India has no other privileged partnerships of such quality as the one it maintains with Russia, but it seeks to strengthen ties with other players, including the United States, which is generating tension in Russian-Indian relations. Russia, in turn, is moving closer to China amid deteriorating India-China relations. “We need to find a way to isolate what is happening in those bilateral relations from our relations with each other,” the expert said. In his opinion, in this sense, it would be useful to create some buffer zones.

“The crisis allows us to reconsider even very friendly and good relations in order to pursue greater interaction and a real search,” believes Viktoria Panova, Russia’s Sherpa in W20 and Vice-Rector of the National Research University Higher School of Economics. She noted that the West is exerting unprecedented pressure on India in the G20 format on issues related to interaction with Russia, but India remains neutral and promotes an agenda that is important for the socio-economic development of all G20 countries. Panova considers it necessary to develop Russian-Indian relations within the framework of the BRICS+ format inside the G20. In her opinion, it is important, despite the difficult diplomatic environment, not to miss the opening opportunities for intensifying cooperation while the system is flexible.

As the G20 Chair, India promotes the idea that the whole world is one family and denies attempts to build a hierarchy of countries, and also supports the interests of the countries of the Global South, said Raj Kumar Sharma, Visiting Fellow, United Service Institution of India and Post Doc Fellow, Delhi School of Transnational Affairs, University of Delhi. In the strategic culture of Russia and India, he sees a lot in common and considers this a guarantee that friendly relations will be maintained between the two countries in the future. In his opinion, in particular, it is important that if in Western countries, individual human rights are put at the forefront, then for Russia and India a combination of human rights and national security plays a key role. This commonality of approaches promotes mutual understanding.

Gleb Makarevich, Deputy Head of the Centre for the Indian Ocean Region, IMEMO RAS, called it “an unfortunate paradox” that, although the positions of Russia and India on most of the global issues on the G20 agenda coincide, Western countries are trying to replace the discussion of these problems with a discussion on the conflict in Ukraine. “This contradiction stalls the work of the organisation and hinders the achievement of the stated goals,” he said, adding that the achievement of these goals is nevertheless quite possible and Russian-Indian cooperation contributes to this. Speaking about the prospects for relations between Russia and India, the researcher emphasised that the parties should work on long-term economic cooperation, and above all on cooperation in high-tech areas.

Nivedita Das Kundu, Senior Fellow at York University and Academic Director at Liaison College, noted that India in the G20 is promoting a global economic governance agenda and acting as the voice of the Global South, paying special attention to issues relevant to it. The chairmanship of the group provides opportunities for India to cooperate with other members and with other international organisations, which can contribute to the solution of global problems for a better future for the whole world. She expressed her hope that in the context of India's G20 presidency, Russia and India will also develop their relations, which are characterised by a long-standing strategic partnership.