Public Diplomacy

India & Russia: Friends Forever, in Changing Times

December 10, 2014

By Manish Chand

Time-tested, friends forever, all-weather, special and privileged –- when one talks of diplomatic relationships, the sheer scope and range of strategic partnership between India and Russia simply can’t be surpassed. For the two countries have consistently stood as a robust pillar of support to each other in good times and not-so-good times.

images/russia2.jpgThe Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu​Now, the multi-layered machinery of India-Russia partnership is set to crackle with a new decadal vision and a resonant anthem of renewal when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds his first annual summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 11. Since Mr Modi took charge of the world’s most exuberant democracy in May, he has already met President Putin twice, first time on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Fortaleza in Brazil in July, followed by a meeting on the margins of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, in November. In both these meetings, personal warmth and mutual goodwill and regard was abundantly evident. Now, this personal chemistry is set to deepen when the two leaders hold their first full-spectrum talks in New Delhi, which will culminate in a soaring vision of the India-Russia relationship over the next decade. The joint vision statement, says Ajay Bisaria, joint secretary in charge of Eurasia in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, "will provide a roadmap for enhancing the partnership between our two countries to qualitatively new levels.” More than a dozen pacts are expected to be signed in diverse areas, including the fields of defence, nuclear energy, customs, banking and energy.

images/russia1.jpgPrime Minister Shri Narendra Modi with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Fortaleza, Brazil on the sidelines of the 6th BRICS Summit (July, 2014)​‘Special and Privileged’

From frontier areas of science and technology, space, defence and nuclear power to hydrocarbons, trade and investment and cultural synergy, the relations between the two countries are truly all-encompassing and comprehensive. Since the signing of "Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 during the visit of President Putin to India, the relations have been qualitatively transformed in virtually all areas. In December 2010, the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a "Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.”

And in the forthcoming presidential visit, the two countries will be heralding a new phase in their multifarious ties through a compelling joint vision statement. In this context, it’s important to underline that the annual summit meeting between the leaders of India and Russia, which started in 2000, has been held without fail, and underscores the special importance both countries to each other in their overall foreign policy priorities. The well-oiled machinery of the strategic partnership is one of the largest India has with any country in the world, with two top-tier mechanisms encompassing key areas of bilateral interaction. These include Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), co-chaired by India’s External Affairs Minister and Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC- MTC), co-chaired by Russian and Indian Defence Ministers.

Defence Ties

Looking ahead, the cooperation in strategic sectors like defence and nuclear energy is already sturdy and will get a renewed momentum at the forthcoming summit talks. Russia accounts for over 60 per cent of India’s imports of military hardware, and looks set to retain this unassailable position in years to come despite New Delhi diversifying its arms supply. The defence-relations -- the bedrock of the India-Russia relationship –- has acquired a new dynamic with the shift from the buyer-seller framework to the ongoing programmes for joint research, development and production of cutting-edge defence technologies and weaponry systems. Joint development is the new mantra, which is epitomised in Brahmos missiles, the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, the Multi Transport Aircraft, and the licensed production in India of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks.

Energy Diplomacy

The strategic comfort in bilateral ties is reflected in ongoing civil nuclear energy cooperation, where Russia is India’s preferred partner. The Unit I of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP), which became operational in July 2013, and attained full generation capacity on June 7 2014, marks a watershed moment in successful nuclear collaboration. The Unit II of KNPP is expected to become operational soon. Russia looking to set up at least a dozen atomic reactors over the next few years. At the forthcoming summit meeting, one can expect a joint document on energy collaboration, which will include Russia offering India new oil and gas fields.

Focus on revitalising economic ties

With the strategic relationship going strong, the key focus this time will be, fittingly, on scaling up economic ties, an underperforming area which has not kept pace with the level of robust strategic partnership the two countries have forged over a period of time. The India-Russia bilateral trade is estimated to be around $10 billion. The two countries will be, therefore, looking to raise the bar and are expected to unveil pacts which will complement other initiatives that will make Russia an important partner in Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. The joint interaction by Mr Modi and Mr Putin with the India-Russia CEOs forum will underline this renewed focus on lifting up economic relations.

Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are forever, and so is the India-Russia friendship, literally. One can expect President Putin to unveil a new ambitious plan to spur the rise of India as a global diamond hub and some pacts between Russian diamond giant Alrosa and Indian diamond traders that will enable the latter to get stones directly from Russia.

Space: Soaring High

In the area of space, the sky is virtually the limit. From launching the first Indian into space to the manned moon missions and the ongoing cooperation on GLONASS and other critical space applications, it’s clear that outer space will remain a shining frontier of India-Russia space cooperation.
Thinking Smart: Cultural Connect

Smart diplomacy is about not just big-ticket strategic doctrines, but about bringing people together and harnessing cultural energies. Culture, educational exchanges and promotion of tourism are also expected to be crystallised in the new vision document. Talking of culture, Raj Kapoor, the eternal romantic, still looms large over the mental landscape of India-Russia relations. The enduring love with Raj Kapoor has now blossomed into an ongoing affair with Bollywood in Russia. Many Russian institutions, including leading universities and schools, teach Hindi and languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali. The popularity of Indian dance, music, yoga and ayurveda is soaring in Russia.

In no area is this deep civilizational commingling better reflected than in books and literature. The intellectual exchanges between Mahatma Gandhi and author-sage Leo Tolstoy is legendary. Rabindranath Tagore has admirers cutting across generations in Russia, and Russian literary giants like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin continue to be read with fervour in India. This multi-textured cultural connect is reflected in the ongoing Festival of Russian Culture in India and will find new colours in the Festival of Indian Culture in Russia next year.
The Long View: The Road Ahead
What makes the India-Russia relations special and privileged? And will they retain their unique lustre amid cunning calculations of shifting geopolitics? On this count, the answer is a resounding yes, despite some recent developments like Russia’s contentious decision to sign a defence pact with Pakistan. But the overall picture remains overwhelmingly positive. For what imparts the India-Russia relations its enduring relevance and strength is the sheer range of collaboration in strategic sectors and an identity of perspectives on leading regional and global issues, underpinned by a common belief in mutipolarity and an inclusive world order.
Ahead of President Putin’s visit, India has reiterated that it can’t be a party to any sanctions against Russia. Moscow, on its part, has reaffirmed its special friendship with New Delhi. Both Prime Minister Modi and President Putin are prone to take a long-range view and are ardent proponents of invigorating special and privileged partnership between the two countries. With such a large arc of convergence of interests in diverse areas and deep connections of mind and heart, the India-Russia relations look set to shine forth with a new vision and fresh ideas to fructify the full potential of this very special partnership.

(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network,, a portal and e-magazine journal focused on international affairs and the India Story)

- The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


Transcript of Media Briefing on the visit of the President of Russia to India (December 5, 2014)
Joint Statement on the 14th India-Russia Annual Summit: Deepening the Strategic Partnership for Global Peace and Stability
List of Bilateral Documents signed during 14th India-Russia Annual Summit (October 21, 2013)
Putin power for India-Russia ties: New vision, with diamond sparkle
Russian dancers enchant in Mohiniyattam festival
Will discuss our future projects with Russian Space Agency – ISRO Chief


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