India Russia relationship has with-stood the test of times. However, recently some wrinkles have been witnessed in this relationship. These wrinkles have the potential to cause major fracture in this near-perfect relation if not addressed forth-with. However, before getting into details of these challenges witnessed recently, let us look into the development of this relationship in brief.
In the recent times, we have witnessed a number of wrinkles in India-Russia relationship. Although this is a time-tested relationship, but if not taken care of immediately, these wrinkles have the potential to destabilize this relationship.
Brief History of India Russia Relationship:
The ideological basis for the development of the relationship can be found as early as in 1920s, in the contribution made by Manabendra Nath Roy during the establishment of Communist International. The impression he created in the minds of Soviet Leadership, especially Vladimir Lenin, went a long a way in opening up of the doors of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to India in 1950s. However, the visit of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1927 to USSR also played a major role in his ideological leaning towards the Soviet, especially towards socialism, which was visible in his importing the ideas of socialism in the working style of Congress.
It is noteworthy that even before the independence of India on 13th April 1947, the USSR announced the establishment of formal relationship between India and Soviet. However, hardly anything worth mentioning happened during this time.
For all practical purposes, the relationship started moving once Ms. Vijayalaxmi Pandit, sister of Jawaharlal Nehru was made the ambassador of India to USSR. The year 1955 became landmark in India-Soviet relationship. A radical change was witnessed in Soviet foreign relations this year. Nehru went for his maiden visit to Soviet as the Prime Minister of India this year, a step which was reciprocated by visits from Soviet leadership the same year. The agreement to set-up the Bhilai Steel Plant was signed this year only. We should also take into consideration, that it was the same year, when Bandung Conference, the precursor to Non-Aligned Movement took place and from the very beginning this movement had a veiled support of the Soviet.
The consolidation of Indo-Soviet relationship played a major role in deterioration of both Sino-India relationship and Sino-Soviet relationship. Since the initiation of the border conflict between India-China in 1959, Soviet announced to adopt a neutral stand. However, China contradicted this claim by Soviet. But it should be take note of that prior to Sino-India war, no military relation existed between India & Soviet prior to November 1962. Post the Sino-Indian war and the corresponding British-American support to India, the Soviet started its military aid to India. The years between 1962-64 saw land mark export of frontline weaponry by the Soviet to India. In a first, the Soviet provided with the technological know-how of their frontline fighter Mig-21 and licensed production of the same started in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore. Earlier the Soviet denied this permission to the China as well.
The peak of India-Soviet relationship was witnessed in 1971, when the two countries signed the ‘Peace and Friendship Treaty’. Although this was a civilian agreement, completely devoid of any mentioning about the military relation between the two countries, yet it proved the basis of Soviet support to India in the same year during the Indo-Pakistan war and freedom movement of Bangladesh. Pakistan was receiving a major support and supply from both America and China. Soviet, not only vetoed the Security Council resolutions, which were anti-Indian interest, thrice that year but also risked the Third World War, when it positioned a battle group (unit) of their Pacific Fleet just behind the US 7 Fleet to counter-act their threat to India during the war. The US fleet was sent to support their ally Pakistan.
Also on the urge of the India government, the USSR was one of the earliest to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country. This went a long way in increasing the acceptance of Bangladesh to the Soviet-Block countries as an independent country.
The Soviet support to India, especially in consolidating its economy, both in money and material, went on for a considerable period of time. Honestly speaking the approach to 5 years plan adopted to India to bolster its economy was modelled after the Soviet 5 years plan programme. Also the stride made by India in space and nuclear research, to a considerable extent was made possible by soviet support. Upon India detonating its first atomic bomb in the desert of Pokhran in 1974, the west, which till date was providing India with research reactors and fissile materials, closed its doors. This vacuum was fulfilled by the Soviet. Infact the treaty for establishing Kudankulam reactors, one of the most modern reactors of the worls (also dubbed as the safest reactors of the world) was signed during Soviet Era, a technicality which helped Russia to withstand all the pressures from the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) post 1998 Pokhran, on the grounds that the treaty to establish these reactors were signed even before NSG became operational. Also the third stage cryogenic engines, which powered the GSLV programmes in Indian Space research, before the unveiling of the GSLV MKIII powered by an indigenous engine, were supplied by Russia to India.
The relationship between the two countries is rich in examples of the two countries standing by each other at the hour of need.
Infact, it is also worth noting, that post annexation of Crimea by Russia, when the world went for a near unanimous protest against Russia, India resisted all the pressure from its new-found friend America to join the band wagon and maintained silence.
These two are also the worlds one of the two fastest growing economic powers at present and are projected to be one of the two most powerful economies along with USA, Japan, China and Brazil by 2050. A prediction by Goldman Sachs, which acted as the foundation stone for establishing the south-south cooperation by the acronym BRICs (which became BRICS after South Africa joining the grouping). It is also at the behest of Russia that India has been made a member of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a security grouping of Central Asian countries (former soviet-block) along with Russia and China to deal with the security situation in the region.
Now, if everything is going so well, then where are the wrinkles, we mentioned before and how did they develop?
The biggest problem in India-Russia relationship is that they both started taking each other for granted. Neither India nor Russia felt any need of keeping the other party informed about their initiatives in engaging with forces which are potentially antagonistic to the other. This, coupled with near absence of trade relations between the two aides, along with the bureaucratic cultures of the two countries, promoting an atmosphere of non-cooperation and secrecy, played a significant role in dampening this relationship in the recent past.
It is an open secret, that on the urging of Russia, India approached the US for cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. India is a growing economy and needs power. Given the deterioration of global environment, it needed non-emitting source of energy. Russia at the time lacked the clout to garner unanimous support of the NSG members to grant a India specific safeguard and relaxation. This was primarily because India is a Non-NPT (Nuclear Partial-Test-Ban Treaty) signatory country, which is still acting as a hindrance to India joining the group as a member country. However, due to political muscle flexing by US India was granted a country specific safeguard and relaxation to engage with other countries freely for nuclear trade. However, post this agreement, Indo-US relationship started growing. Presently it has reached the level of strategic partnership and India is one of the closest aides of US in its fight against terrorism and on other issues. However, India hardly ever felt the need to keep its earst-while comrade updated about the developments or ‘keep them in the loop’. This is more so because there exists a sentimental blockage in US-Russia relationship, where countries having stake in relationship with both need to play it carefully.
Similarly, it was a necessity for Russia to engage with China, especially because of its economic might. Presently, after Crimea, while majority of the European market is out of bound for Russian oil and gas, the primary source of revenue for Russia at present, Russia needs China as a market for the same. However, given the complexities between China and India, both are relatively wary of each other, and the issue can be compared that between Russia and US. Yet Russia hardly felt the need of keeping India in loop in this respect. In fact of late Russia has engaged with military relations with Pakistan, an arch rival of India since its inception. These developments have really impacted the mutual confidence in each other.
On the other hand, while India Russia relationship developed primarily keeping each-other’s military and geo-political interests in consideration, hardly any trade relation was established between the same. To be honest barring China, India hardly has any business relation with any of the BRICS countries for that matter, which reduces the mutual dependence on each other between these countries.
The bureaucratic culture, existing in both the countries also played its role. While Russia has been the primary source of weapons and military hardware for India since long, the reluctance and red-tapes in the Russia made acquisition by India from Russia really hard. This was first witnessed during the Admiral Gorshkov deal. The escalation of costs with passage of time practically killed the acquisition process at one point of time. Similarly, the reluctance in part of the Russian’s in supplying the vital software codes for the Sukhoi 30 MKI made the acquisition process really difficult. Also till date, inspite of BRAHMOS, jointly developed by India and Russia and known as one of the most advanced systems of similar kind, is not used by Russia because of an archaic law which bans use of weapons developed in other countries by the Russian Military. Process is on the way to remove this obsolete law but as usual it is expected to take time.
It is also worth mentioning, that it is because of these bureaucratic culture and growing mistrust, the fate of a number of projects taken up by the two countries for joint development, starting from the fifth generation FGFA to the medium range carrier aircraft to a number of other projects, are hanging in a balance.
However, there are other ramifications of this growing discord. We would ask you to read the answer on “WITH THE SLOWLY GROWING DISTANCE BETWEEN RUSSIA, DO YOU THINK ISRAEL CAN SOMEDAY REPLACE RUSSIA AS OUR ALL-WEATHER FRIEND, ELABORATE?” (Link: https://goo.gl/7GytGc) for this purpose.
 Even as late as in 1990s, Russia denied supplying the engines of Mig 29 to China for development of JF-17, one of the most ambitious projects of China back then and this was done keeping into the consideration the security perception of India, which uses Mig-29 aircrafts in bulk.