For nearly 70 years now, Russia and India have maintained close relations both in the economic sphere and in defence. Russia has been the major supplier of armament for India for a long time, and has helped the country a lot in the confrontation with Pakistan. However, in recent years, the Russian-Indian relations have seemed to be losing their warmth. This impression is supported by the active foreign policy of the both states. India is extending relations with the USA, while Russia is actively cooperating with China and establishing relations with Pakistan, which both are the major rivals of India. Nevertheless, despite the appearance of mutual estrangement, these countries remain important and reliable partners for each other.
It is public knowledge that the special importance of the Russia-India relations is due to the fact that the two countries are cooperating in the military and technical field. As before, Russia is actively supplying sophisticated and advanced weaponry to India. In addition, Russia has helped organize the assembly work of high-tech military equipment in the territory of India. This fact demonstrates the high level of mutual confidence between the two countries. Russian-Indian cooperation is not limited to just defence technologies. The total goods turnover between the two states has totalled USD 7.7 billion, and keeps growing. Mutual investment has also reached several billion dollars.
Certain obstacles in the modern Russian-Indian relations concern the fact that Russia successfully develops relations with China, which is the major India’s competitor in Asia that has territorial disputes. Russia’s relations with another rival of India – Pakistan – has also improved. A territorial dispute between India and Pakistan is still acute, it has led to several military conflicts.
In 2015, Russia and Pakistan signed a contract to sell a batch of Mi-35M helicopters to Pakistan. In the same year, Russia launched the construction of a gas pipeline worth USD2 billion on the territory of Pakistan. In September 2016, many Indian politicians were surprised by the joint Russia-Pakistan military exercise dubbed ‘Friendship-2016’. This was the first Russia-Pakistan joint exercise in history, and according to many experts, this was Russia’s direct response to the growing India-USA cooperation. Nonetheless, at that time, many experts agreed that Russia and India had had long lasting and close relations that could not possibly be spoiled by such a demonstration.
It should be noted that this exercise had an anti-terrorist nature. Since India suffers from periodic attacks by Pakistani terrorists, Friendship-2016 could not provoke serious dissatisfaction. In addition, the much larger Russian-Indian military exercises dubbed ‘INDRA-2016’ were taking place at the same time.
In any case, if Russia and India have any disagreements, they are successfully settled by means of negotiations that are regularly held at various joint events.
On June 1, 2017, during the latest St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the 18th Annual Russia-India Summit took place, which saw the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime-Minister Narendra Modi. Following the event, several important documents were signed to strengthen Russia-India cooperation. The two countries agreed on developing trade and economic collaboration by increasing the mutual goods turnover to USD30 billion by 2025. In addition, Russia and India agreed to continue their close cooperation in various fields related to the power industry, science and technology, and to work on the creation of the Russian-Indian “energy bridge”. It was decided to establish the joint production of automobiles and airplanes, and cooperate in the mining industry and agriculture. They also discussed issues on joint anti-terrorism efforts.
Among the signed documents, the most anticipated were agreements related to the construction of two new Kudankulam nuclear power plant units, with the participation of the Russian experts from Rosatom Corporation. The two countries are developing and producing modern armament systems, and they intend to continue this cooperation.
On June 8-10, 2017, the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, hosted the regular summit of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Until recently, Russia and China have been the major players of SCO, which also unites Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Various issues, including cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts, the situation in the Middle East, and other questions, were discussed at the June summit. However, the major result of the June summit was the official entry of India and Pakistan into the organization.
In terms of global politics, the accession to SCO of such large and powerful states will turn the organization into one of the most significant international organizations uniting almost half of the world population (it should be noted that Iran has also applied for membership). As for India and Pakistan, this is an opportunity to start the reconciliation process. In addition, India has the chance to start rapprochement with China. In view of this important historical event, Russia’s policy towards Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China no longer seems to infringe the interests of New Delhi. Russia may quite possibly be able to assume the role of intermediary among India, Pakistan, and China, and will contribute to the establishment of lasting peace and mutual understanding throughout the region.
Dmitry Bokarev, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”