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Russia’s importance for India

9th July, 2024 International Relations

Russia’s importance for India

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  • The Prime Minister's bilateral visit to Russia marks his first official visit since his re-election and this visit deviates from his previous tradition of visiting neighbouring countries first after taking office.

Significance of the visit:

  • The choice of Russia underscores India's strong commitment to its long-standing relationship with Moscow.
  • It highlights India's foreign policy priority amidst global geopolitical dynamics, especially during the NATO summit in Washington DC.
  • India aims to ensure that Russia's engagements with China do not undermine Indian strategic interests, particularly in defence technology sharing. Discussions during Modi's visit will likely address concerns over the use and transfer of sensitive defense technologies.

Why is Russia so important for India?

  • Defence Cooperation: Russia is important for India due to its historical role as a major supplier of defence equipment, including critical systems like S-400 air defence systems and Sukhoi fighter jets, comprising over 60-70% of India's defence inventory.
  • Strategic Partnership: India and Russia collaborate extensively in nuclear energy and space technology, with projects like the BrahMos supersonic missile showcasing joint ventures and technological collaboration.
  • Energy Relations: Despite global sanctions, Russia remains a crucial supplier of crude oil to India, stabilising energy prices and contributing significantly to bilateral trade.Russia remained the top supplier of oil to India in January, accounting for nearly a third of the crude brought into the country, according to data from the commerce ministry. At $4.47 billion, the value of the crude oil supply from Russia jumped 41% year-on-year.
  • Geopolitical Alignment: Russia supports India's diplomatic positions, providing a counterbalance to Western and Chinese influence, and aligning closely on key international issues at forums like the UN Security Council. For example, Russia has consistently backed India's stance on Kashmir as a bilateral issue.
  • Historical and Cultural Ties: Beyond political and economic cooperation, India and Russia share a deep-rooted friendship dating back to the Cold War era. Examples include Russia's support for India during the Indo-Pakistani wars especially war of 1971 and the robust cultural exchanges underpinned by shared interests in literature, arts, and education.
  • Economic Aspects: The bilateral trade volume between India and Russia has exceeded expectations, reaching $65.70 billion in FY 2023-24. India's purchases of Russian oil have been substantial, aimed at stabilising domestic energy prices despite international sanctions on Russia. Joint efforts include boosting trade diversification, investment collaborations, and exploring new economic corridors such as the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

Challenges in India Russia Relations:

Diplomatic Challenges: India faces diplomatic balancing acts amidst the Ukraine conflict, navigating between its traditional ties with Russia and Western pressures. New Delhi has abstained from voting against Russia at the UN Security Council, emphasising dialogue and diplomacy over condemnation.

Diversification of Defense Partnerships: India has been diversifying its defence procurement sources, increasingly looking towards the United States, Israel, and European countries for advanced technology and equipment. This diversification can strain the traditional buyer-seller relationship it has historically had with Russia.

Some examples:

  • Apache and Chinook Helicopters: In 2015, India signed a contract worth $3 billion to acquire 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the United States. This deal marked a departure from India's reliance on Russian helicopters in similar categories.
  • C-130J Super Hercules Aircraft: India purchased six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the US in 2011, enhancing its special operations capabilities. This purchase was part of India's efforts to diversify its sources of military transport aircraft beyond traditional suppliers like Russia.
  • P-8I Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft: India procured eight P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft from the US, starting in 2009. These aircraft are critical for India's maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities, showcasing its shift towards American defense technology in maritime domains.

Economic Relations: As per figures of Department of Commerce, in FY 2023-24, bilateral trade has reached an all-time high of $ 65.70 billion [Total bilateral merchandise trade for FY 2023-24: USD 65.70 billion; India's exports: USD 4.26 billion; and India's imports: USD 61.44 billion]. This marks a huge trade imbalance between two countries. Both countries have struggled to diversify their trade beyond traditional sectors like defence and energy.

Strategic Alignment: India's growing strategic partnership with the United States and Russia's assertive foreign policy, especially in Eurasia and the Middle East, have occasionally led to divergent interests. For example, India's participation in the Quad (with the US, Japan, and Australia) contrasts with Russia's views on regional security architectures.

Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges: Despite cultural affinities and historical connections, people-to-people exchanges have been limited. For example, in 2019, only around 40,000 Russian tourists visited India, while Indian tourist arrivals to Russia were around 24,000. Enhancing cultural diplomacy and tourism remains an area for improvement.

Way ahead

  • Deepening Defence Cooperation: Strengthening this cooperation could involve joint military exercises, technology transfers, and collaborative defence production ventures. For example, the joint venture Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited has successfully delivered AK-203 rifles to the Indian Army, showcasing effective collaboration in defence manufacturing.
  • Enhancing Economic Ties: Beyond defence, both countries can focus on enhancing economic ties through increased trade and investment. Exploring new sectors such as energy, pharmaceuticals, and technology could diversify the economic relationship. Initiatives like the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) aim to facilitate trade connectivity between India, Russia, and other countries in Eurasia, offering mutual economic benefits.
  • Cultural and Educational Exchanges: Strengthening people-to-people ties through cultural and educational exchanges can foster greater understanding and cooperation between the two nations. Promoting student exchanges, cultural festivals, and showcasing each other’s cultural heritage can deepen bilateral relations beyond strategic and economic dimensions.
  • Collaboration in Multilateral Forums: Both India and Russia are key members of BRICS, SCO, and other multilateral forums. Cooperating closely within these frameworks on global issues such as climate change, counter-terrorism, and cybersecurity can amplify their bilateral influence and contribute to global stability. Russia’s chairmanship of BRICS in 2024 provides an opportunity for closer collaboration.
  • Navigating Geopolitical Challenges: Amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics, particularly Russia’s relations with China, India needs to navigate these challenges carefully. Maintaining a balanced approach that respects mutual interests while safeguarding India’s strategic autonomy is crucial. Continued high-level diplomatic engagements and strategic dialogues can help manage potential divergences and build trust.


  • India and Russia's longstanding strategic partnership continues to thrive, marked by strong historical ties, robust defense cooperation, and a shared commitment to enhancing bilateral relations amidst changing global dynamics.





Q) Discuss the significance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent bilateral visit to Russia and analyze the complexities in India-Russia relations in the contemporary geopolitical context. (250 words)