Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla recently visited Moscow and held discussions with several stakeholders. In this episode, we will discuss and analyse the time tested bilateral relations between India and Russia, various geopolitical factors affecting this relationship and the way forward for both nations.
Edited Excerpts from the debate
Key-highlights of the meet
India’s Foreign Secretary met several people including the deputy foreign minister and academicians as well as people from the strategic think tanks in Russia.
During the visit, India’s Foreign Secretary devoted his premium time to “the India-Russia Foreign Office Consultations” towards substantial investments in each other’s energy sectors, including looking at new opportunities for the supply of Russian coking coal for the Indian steel sector.
While nuclear cooperation between the two countries is on a firm footing (Russian atomic energy giant Rosatom building six nuclear power plants in India and India has agreed to commission 12 Russian-designed nuclear reactors in the coming years), the new emphasis is on Indian investments in Russian Far East (Siberia region) for oil, gas, timber and cooking coal and then shipping them back to India.
India seeks to expand its economic presence in Russia's Far East to counterbalance China's influence
Indian PM Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to have ever visited Russian Far East.
He was there as the Chief Guest of the three-day Eastern Economic Forum, the fifth in the series, that President Putin had hosted.
What is the significance of the recent visit?
The recent visit of India’s Foreign Secretary was overdue, very timely because we did not have the annual summit this time between the two leaders, it created a gap.
Such proper meetings and visits can provide a platform where countries can go over a whole gamut of issues which the countries do not necessarily do at the highest level, where only very very critical and problem-solving issues are focused.
There is a perception that some gaps have developed between India and Russia. Earlier on, geopolitically, they were virtually no differences between the two countries. Now some differences are emerging.
For example- Russia has reservations about the Indo-Pacific and QUAD. They are very actively supportive of dialogue with the Taliban.
Thus, it can be said that the recent meeting was timely and placed at a moment when some differences are emerging and those have to be bridged.
The United States’ angle
Russia has a perception that India is going too far towards the United States. Therefore, they are losing out in terms of the past strength of their relationship.
Even in the defence area, they see that India is now advancing very rapidly with the US, Israel and France.
Why India’s role is important between Russia and China?
India must have a foot in the door in the Russia-China relationship.
If Russia feels that India is distancing itself, the country will not be there to actually play as some kind of buffer between India and China.
What are the factors affecting the India-Russia relationship?
Some amount of shift in India’s foreign policy and the larger geopolitics is a natural consequence of what is happening in the wider international system. So there is bound to be some pulls and pressures on a relationship that historically has been quite steady.
The challenge in recent years has been that how do you make this relationship relevant for 21st Century, for contemporary realities, where both Russia and China have their interests and they have moved in different directions.
Now, India today, especially in the context of what has happened last year, is bound to revolve around the China question.
For Russia, the relationship is still, for a large part of its foreign policy still predicated on the western, anti-western prism through which it is assessing its foreign policy priorities.
Therefore, it is to be concluded that there is that divergence that has emerged in this context and it has also made it important for India to have an honest discussion and deliberation with Russia.
What needs to be done?
There is a need for India and Russia to make a concerted effort and progress have been already started in this direction.
For example- In 2018 and 2019, PM Modi attended SOCHI Summit and the Vladivostok initiative.
India needs some understanding with Russia on the basics of our ties which is very important for the balance of our foreign policy.
Today Russia, like India, desires a world with many centres of power. The opportunity must not be lost.
Recent efforts between Indian and Russia
India and Russia are working to close the gap on Afghanistan and are calling for the early finalisation of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
Additionally, Russia supports India’s candidacy for permanent membership of a reformed United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
India and Russia also plan to intensify cooperation on regional and global issues within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, SCO, Russia, India, China, and G20.
Russia is the only country that is setting up nuclear power plants in India.
In terms of space, Russia has been training Indians in the Gaganyaan mission for launching humans into space.
Russia will be delivering the S400 missile system by the end of this year, in what will be a significant defence-related development between New Delhi and Moscow. The $5 billion deal was signed in October 2018 by both countries.
Indo-Russia Defence Deals: 2018-19
S-400 missile system
Project 11356 class frigates
Project 11356 class frigates (to be built in Goa shipyard)