Message From New Delhi– On the India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit

The 19th edition of the Annual Bilateral Summit between India and Russia was held in New Delhi between October 4 and 5, 2018. Both the countries share a ‘special and privileged strategic partnership’ and have a glorious history of mutual trust and cooperation. Amidst ever-changing international dynamics, to have a partnership that has stood the test of time and can be relied upon, even in the worst of times, is indeed a “luxury” that all sovereign nation-states desire. In that regard, both India and Russia have a lot to feel fortunate about. However, in the last one decade, there has been a debate regarding the health of this partnership. In that backdrop and the intensifying US-Russia tensions post 2014 annexation of Crimea by the latter as well as the alleged case of Russia meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election coupled with the growing closeness between US and India in recent times, the 19th bilateral summit assumed greater significance. Thus, the message that has emerged out of New Delhi is a question that needs deliberation.


Since the end of the cold-war, Russia has lost its superpower status but it still continues to remain a major world power. While it may no longer be considered an economic power, Russia still holds enormous weight in global politics. Only two facts will suffice here: first, Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and second, it has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. In the recent years it has “re-emerged” at the world stage as it successfully demonstrated its might in the Middle-East by emerging as the protector of the Assad-regime in Syria. Besides, its closeness with China and countries as diverse as Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Israel and Turkey has significantly increased its heft in global politics. In the meantime, under the current dispensation, India has shed its historical inhibitions regarding the US. The American scepticism or what some may even call Anti-Americanism that had dominated the thought process of the Indian intelligentsia as well as the foreign policy-makers during and after the Cold-War has been consigned to the dustbin of history by the current Modi government in India. Therefore, the balancing act that was central to Indian foreign policy making during the cold-war era, was really necessary today. Thankfully for India, the vast array of agreements pertaining to defence procurement, space and energy cooperation that have been reached during this summit, point towards a successful and skilful balancing act done by India.


The defence sector has for long been the strongest pillar of India-Russia ties. The fact that over 60% of all military hardware of India traces its origin to Russia is a scathing testimony to this solid partnership. However, over the last few years, US has emerged as India’s largest defence exporter as the share of Russia has declined progressively. India has sought to diversify its defence procurements by buying more from countries like Israel, France and the US. But what separates the India-Russia defence partnership from all other such partnerships that India has with different countries is the fact that India-Russia defence ties go beyond the usual ‘buyer-seller’ relationship. The supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos, is a classical example of an Indo-Russia joint production. Russia for that matter is also the only country that has provided a nuclear-abled submarine to India. The former has always shown willingness to share its technology with India while other western powers have been reluctant in doing so. Be it the advanced weapon systems such aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya or the T-72 and T-90 Tanks, or relatively trivial items like AK-103 assault rifles, Russia has been a reliable source of defence equipment for India. The 19th edition in this regard puts a seal of confirmation and reassurance on the robust Indo-Russia defence partnership. The multi-billion deal for S-400 Air Defence System, in the atmosphere of looming CAATSA sanctions threat by the US, is undoubtedly the biggest takeaway for India. What this does is that, while on one hand it assuages the threats within India that India’s strategic autonomy might be in jeopardy due to growing closeness with the US, on the other hand it also reaffirms Russia that India still attaches utmost value to its ‘oldest’ friendship. Other important agreements pertaining to cooperation in space sector, railway sector and energy sector were relatively low hanging fruits which have been duly plucked


The annual bilateral trade between the two countries stands at a meagre amount of $10 Billion which is nowhere compared to the over $100 Billion annual trade between Russia and China or around $100 Billion between India and the US. In this regard, the fact that for the first time a special business summit was incorporated into the Annual Bilateral Summit, where over 100 CEOs from both sides met each other, was a heartening development. Moreover, the two countries need to tap into the favourable public opinion that exists, for each other, in both countries. Greater people to people contact is a dire necessity for sustaining a long term favourable relationship. Thus, more efforts are required in that domain. This could be done through facilitating greater student-exchange programmes. Furthermore, India also needs to communicate with the US that, it is in the latter’s long term interest if India’s capabilities are enhanced by cooperation with Russia because for US, the main threat to its superpower position today comes not from Russia but China. Therefore, if India could influence the US policy towards taking a less-belligerent stand against Russia, then it will be a huge diplomatic victory for India.

Finally, to sum up, one could say that the huge adjectives which are prefixed before the India-Russia relationship are a result of 60 years of mutual trust and understanding between the two countries. Often, it is said in international relations that the convergence of interests bring the two countries closer. The best hope for the India-Russia relationship, perhaps, is that both the nations have a minimal conflict of interests, manifested in their commitment to a shared vision of a multi-polar world order.

Contributed by Suryansh.

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