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Path-Dependence between Russia and India

Author- Ms. Sukanya Sarkar

Wavering of Russia as a Country

India and Russia’s deep-rooted relationship has been constantly blossoming since India’s independence, but the countries really began to foster it only around 1960s-70s. Today, most of the analysts would definitely agree that their relation is a
“time- tested” one, and marks a “high degree of political and strategic trust.” The two nations have shared a unique camaraderie, which had once resulted in the culmination of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in 1971. Despite a tumultuous period around the 1990s, both the countries stuck together and managed to maintain a convergence on global and regional interests.

The infamous collapse of USSR in 1991 resulting in the formation of 15 independent states changed the global geopolitical scenario, especially for India and the Soviet Union. Soviet Union had always been India’s largest arms supplier and had enjoyed having a market for other exports too. India took all kinds of initiative to protect its relationship, but the magnitude of the effort wavered due to Russia’s political upheaval and economic exigencies.

Russia, then, with its pragmatic foreign policy stressed the need for “de-ideologization” and became a member of NATO as a partner for peace. When Yeltsin first visited India in January 1993, he declared that Russia through its policy of
“de-ideologization” could establish a healthy relationship with India as a counterweight against China and U.S. and the new Indo–Russian relationship would be defined by a balance of power and common interests.

The longstanding Indo–Russian relationship strengthened with the signing of the Declaration on the India–Russia Strategic Partnership in October 2000 during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to India.

Military and Defense Ties

Russia today, continues to be India’s main trading partner in military and technical spheres, with 70% of Russian equipment directly being exported to the Indian Armed Forces. One of the recent developments in bilateral engagement has been a shift from supplying of end products to technology transfer and joint research and development. The most fruitful among these developments has been the designing and manufacturing of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile for Indian forces and export to third countries. The most significant deal so far has been the contract to supply and jointly produce 200 Russian light helicopters Ka-226T. Projects that are supposed to be put into action soon are the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and purchase of S-400 air missile defense system.

Indo–Russian economic and trade relations underwent a major change in the span of 1991-2010. The turnover of their trade relationship had gone down from Rs.7800 crore in 1991 to Rs.6337 crore in 2001-02. The end of the “rupee-ruble” exchange scheme after the disintegration of USSR changed the Indo–Russian dynamics all the more. However, with
Putin–Modi’s 2016 Goa Summit and the triumphant signing of the deal on S-400 Triumf air missile there has been an increase in annual bilateral trade and investment figures. It is worth mentioning here that though the two nations have been continuously partnering in Russia’s northern energy projects, the Goa declaration mentioned that Moscow “expressed its interest in attracting Indian Oil companies to participate in joint projects in the off-shore Arctic fields of the Russian Federation”.

In common terms, path-dependence means decisions which are made based on the knowledge of the past; and these decisions therefore, are also conditioned by the past. This may or may not narrow down the scope of future endeavor. In this context, India still has a large stock of Soviet-era weaponry to be utilized and New Delhi added Russian weaponry only around 1990s and 2000s. Thus, it is believed that Russia will remain the most dominant defense supplier to India in the coming future.

Even though the Russian Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is very large and Russian military’s R&D is successful in product development, the problem lies in the fact that its manufacturing technologies could use quite a lot of improvement. Adding to this problem has been Rosoboronexport, which happens to be the central defense contracting agency. It engages in sub-contracting weapon parts to different domestic weapon contractors. The agency also makes calculation of life-cycle costs of weapons. India is trying to internalize it to a certain degree, but its capacities to manufacture technologies have been keeping low.

However, manufacturing in the civilian sector has picked up pace, contributing up to 17% of India’s GDP, which is likely to increase to 25% by 2025. The 2014 joint statement, agreed on by Putin and Modi, embarked on the idea of collaboration between hydrocarbon companies of the two countries in oil and gas exploration and production in LNG projects and supplies. The document titled, “Druzba–Dosti: A Vision of Strengthening the Indian–Russian Partnership over the Next Decade” highlighted areas of cooperation on technology and innovation, economic engagement, global order and world peace based on people-to-people ties. The declaration marked devotion to a common vision for the two states till 2025, whereby the leaders too agreed upon for a concrete target of bilateral trade turnover of goods and services at USD $30 billion in the next 10 years.

In the year 2017, India and Russia “successfully conducted” the joint Indra military drill which was held between 19 to 29 October near Vladivostok in Russia. The bilateral military drill involved 900 Indian military personnel from Indian Army, Air Force and Navy, over 1000 troops from all the three Russian services and aircrafts from Eastern Military District. The principle objective of the exercise was to enhance inter-service cooperation, especially on the Indian front. The satisfactory part was that, India and Russia’s defense cooperation had been realized when they were commemorating their 70th year of friendship.


Looking into the Geopolitics

The Indo–Russian relationship though has its military and defense tenets of analysis, the other stakeholders in the geopolitical arena should not be taken for granted.

In 2009 Russia and U.S.A tried to resuscitate their bilateral relation, in the presence of the then leaders Dimitry Medvedev and Barack Obama. However it didn’t last too long. The “reset” policy backfired as the two were unable to agree upon the details of their nuclear arms deals. Their opinions on resolving the crises in Syria and Libya also differed. The events in Ukraine at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, created a further rift between Moscow and Washington. Since then Russia’s bilateral ties with the U.S., E.U., Canada, Japan and some other allies too, have drastically wavered with them imposing sanctions against Russian companies.

With the coming of Trump’s government in 2016, the two sides had hoped to produce cooperation in the fields of security and combating terrorism. Russia, however, faced criticism for alleged interference in the U.S. general elections. In August 2017, Russia–U.S. relations saw a further decline as U.S. lawmakers approved new sanctions packages hitting the energy sector in Russia. At the same time, diplomatic ties deteriorated further as within eight months of Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats from U.S., the former retaliated by forcing Washington to reduce diplomatic staff in Russia. In such a scenario, Russia is obviously concerned about India’s growing proximity with U.S., mainly in the defense sector. Russia’s suspicion of intimacy between India and U.S. pushed America into formulating and signing the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with India, proving India to officially be one of America’s major defense partners.

Future Strategic Prospects

Narendra Modi recently met Vladimir Putin in the city of Sochi in Russia and promoted opportunities to deepen their friendship and exchange views on international and regional issues. The two leaders agreed that their special and privileged strategic partnership is an important factor for global peace and stability. The shared a common view that both the nations have an important role to play in contributing to an open and equitable world order and agreed on the importance of building a multipolar world. They also discussed on how to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed on the importance of restoring peace in Afghanistan.

In terms of trade, energy, and military—the two leaders agreed to institute a Strategic Economic Dialogue between NITI Ayog of India and the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation to identify greater opportunities for synergy in trade and investment. The two leaders also satisfactorily noted the expansion of cooperation in the energy sector and welcomed the arrival of the first consignment of LNG under a long-term agreement between Gazprom and GAIL in the next month. Last but not the least, the two leaders re-confirmed the significance of their longstanding partnership in military, security, and nuclear energy and welcomed further cooperation in these areas.

India and Russia could use further improvement in their partnership by further indulging in technological exchanges and embracing other spheres such as space, energy, IT, and cyber security.

Author is a Research Scholar in School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University