India and Russia: Putin Visit to Boost Ties
Dr Nivedita Das Kundu

The India-Russia Strategic partnership was formed in the year 2000. Russia was the first country with whom India established a strategic partnership and in the year 2010 during the 11th Summit, India and Russia elevated their relationship to a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership” status, indicating a mutual desire to emphasize the exceptional closeness of ties. In today’s complicated and fast changing geopolitical situation, both countries have wisely diversified their foreign policy options, yet have been careful not to abandon a mutually beneficial partnership of trust built up over decades between them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forthcoming visit to India on 11th December, 2014, will be an extremely significant event as far as India-Russia relationship is concerned. This will be the first visit of President Putin to New Delhi after formation of the new government in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The bilateral summit between India and Russia takes place every year alternatively in Moscow and in New Delhi. The forthcoming summit will be the 15th annual bilateral summit between the two countries. During the Summit, there will be full-fledged discussion on various issues and concerns related to India-Russia bilateral relationship. The leaders of the two countries are expected to discuss and sign a number of important bilateral agreements, review the entire range of India-Russia bilateral ties and also lay down a broad agenda to be followed for the coming year for strengthening the strategic partnership.

Historical Connections

The deep roots of India-Russia relationship go back to the early 20th century when India was under British rule and the Czars ruled Russia. The Russian Revolution of 1905 inspired Indian freedom fighters. Russia's communist leader V.I. Lenin followed with interest and sympathy the nascent Indian freedom struggle. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet leaders understood that their revolution stood better chance of success and encouraged India to become free and independent. Many Indian freedom fighters who were greatly inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution established personal contacts with the Soviet leaders; it was India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who laid the foundation of the policy of closeness towards the Soviet Union. After visiting Soviet Union in 1927, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Nehru came back deeply impressed with the Soviet experiment. He was emphatic that India must develop close and friendly relationship with the Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that even before India became independent, an official announcement was made on 13th April 1947, pertaining to the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the Soviet Union.

Nehru’s faith in the Soviet Union was immense. The Soviet Union consistently gave India valuable political, diplomatic and strategic support bilaterally as well as at international fora. India received Soviet diplomatic backing and material support and the confidence provided by the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. Beginning 1950s, India received from the Soviet Union generous assistance for its industrialization process as well as support in the areas of defence, space and atomic energy. India also highly appreciated the support that it received from the Soviet Union. Some of today’s globally competitive public sector companies in India such as Bharat Heavy Electrical limited (BHEL), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), as well as the steel industry in India, were set up with Soviet support and cooperation. The first Indian Institute of Technology set up with foreign collaboration was the one in Mumbai with Soviet support. Soviet Union helped India in many ways to become more self-reliant and was India’s true partner.

Contemporary Relationship

Today, India-Russia relationship has many positive dimensions to lend fresh impetus to their cooperation and friendship. India-Russia cooperation is going on smoothly and steadily in various sectors. Cooperation in the defence sector is still the strongest link. Even today around 50% of the defence equipment used by the Indian defence forces is of Russian origin. India and Russia have similar views on many international developments. Today, the weakest link in Indo-Russian cooperation remains trade & economic ties. The trade between the two countries is extremely low at around US $ 10 billion. Both sides have expressed their intention to hike it up to US $ 20 billion. It is expected that as soon as the International North South Corridor (INSTC) will start operating, this target might be achieved quickly as then the time limit of the consignment passing and reaching the destination will be much less than what it is taking today and also it will be much cheaper. But there are still a number of challenges that need to be looked into closely. Now that the stringent visa regulations have eased to a certain extent, the dynamic private sector in both the countries will also be able to connect with each other easily to boost the economic partnership. India and Russia has also been trying to engage with each other through the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). India is also keen to get connected with the Eurasian Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Indo-Russian cooperation can be boosted up even further if people to people contact can be increased and cultural as well as educational linkages enhanced.


As far as the discourse in India in this regard is concerned, there are two schools of thought; one feels that the relationship with Russia is significant for India while the other feels that when Russia is expanding its relationship with countries like China and Pakistan, India should not shy away from developing its ties with United States. However, the consensus on one aspect among these two groups is that Russia is indeed a great partner of India and that needs to be maintained. Amidst all these issues & concerns, there is a hope that President Putin’s forthcoming visit will further help in boosting India-Russia friendship and the strategic partnership, which will scale new heights in the coming years.

For India, Putin was the one who formulated the strategic partnership with India in the year 2000. President Putin has contributed greatly for maintaining this partnership. He has always appreciated the long-standing friendship and cooperation with India and has asserted that deepening of friendship and cooperation with India is among the top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy. He also appreciated the fact that, unlike the West, India never thought of putting down Russia when Russia is in a difficult situation.

The Way Ahead

During the forthcoming summit, the two sides are expected to come up with revised targets for boosting the relationship further. This summit might bring new ideas that might be in line with Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy priorities of bringing economic benefit to the country by involving Russia also in his ‘Make in India’ campaign. The Russian side has already agreed to make “civil and light aircraft in India,” which has been welcomed by the Indian side. Another area that Russia is keen on to cooperate is the infrastructure sector. ‘Sistema’, a Russian company, has expressed interest in partnering for building smart cities in India. Fields such as high-end computing, launching of telecommunication satellites on low cost platforms are areas where two countries are now thinking of working together. Both India and Russia are now trying to build direct contacts with the entire spectrum of stakeholders and interest groups in the political, economic, military and other spheres not only in major cities in small cities and towns across the two countries to reduce the information gap and explore possibilities of innovation and involvement.

The forthcoming 15th Annual Summit will reflect how India and Russia continue to value each other’s steadfast friendship. It has been observed that India-Russia cooperation and friendship remains unaffected by any global developments. The meeting and discussion that will take place in New Delhi between both the leaders will further strengthen the framework for cooperation between Russia and India.

(The author is a Foreign Policy Analyst)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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