December 13, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9678

Putin's Visit Highlights Both Continuity And Flux In Russia-India Relations

December 13, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9678

In the Cold War era, relations between the USSR and India were exemplary. Moscow courted New Delhi because India was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Congress Party headed government favored establishing a state-owned economy. Strategically, India was the adversary of Pakistan, then firmly aligned with the West and the recipient of American arms. Later, at the height of the Sino-Soviet split. India was viewed as an ally against China, that could preoccupy China to Russia's advantage. Things have changed appreciably since then. India is a sought-after customer on the global arms market. India is definitely a capitalistic country (as is Russia). Russia has chosen to team up with China to counter the United States and does not want to antagonize China as it did in the 1960s by favoring India over it. As a result, India has been drawing closer to the West as emphasized by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD Quad) involving the US, Japan, Australia and India – a meta alliance directed against China.

Given the changed international circumstances what form would the privileged relationship between Russia and India take? There remained a tendency to stress the military relationship. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized India's drawing closer to the orbit of American alliances in the Pacific in an attempt to preserve the traditional concept of the India-Russia relationship. Other writers claimed that the relationship had changed for both sides and it was necessary to live with the new situation. A final approach argues that the relationship is becoming increasingly focused on economic rather than military relations and this change can benefit both countries.

MEMRI's survey of the Putin visit, and the tenor of Russian-Indian relations follows below:

India's leader Narendra Modi with Putin (Source:

The Special Relationship Persists

Vladimir Putin who has been loath to expose himself to unneeded risks during the Covid pandemic made a one-day visit to India on December 6, 20221.and took with him Russia's Defense and Foreign Minister Sergey Shoigu and Sergey Lavrov to meet with their counterparts. The CEO of the Rosneft oil conglomerate, Igor Sechin, was also part of the delegation. This was a gesture by Putin explained Tatyana Shaumyan, head of the Russian Academy of Science's Center for Indian Studies “Recently, the President of the Russian Federation has not traveled abroad effectively. Nevertheless, India was chosen as a place where Putin is visiting anyway, attesting to the very high place on which the Russian Federation places on relations with New Delhi. This is important both for us and for India " [1]

The military relationship remained healthy Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar said in an interview with Izvestiya: "Russian-Indian defense cooperation has long been an integral part of our strategic partnership. And it is steadily transforming into increased co-production and research in line with India's self-reliance policy. We are adapting to these changes both nationally and globally. Specific details of agreements and contracts will be made public by the Ministry of Defense."[2]

Indeed, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh took to Twitter to voice satisfaction that that a number of agreements, contracts and protocols have been signed regarding small arms and military cooperation.” Singh expressed the hope that cooperation between the countries "will bring peace, prosperity and stability to the entire region."[3] Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov took satisfaction that India was persisting in its intention to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system despite American pressure: The S-400 deal is not merely symbolic. It is of vast practical importance for India’s defense capability. This deal is underway. We are seeing America’s attempts to undermine this cooperation and compel India to follow US orders, in line with US views on the development of the region. But our Indian friends have explained in no uncertain terms that India is a sovereign country and will decide itself what weapons to buy and who its partners will be in this and other areas.[4]  The major new developments of the Putin visit in the military sphere  was the signing of a $600 million that would allow India to manufacture locally hundreds of thousands of Russian AK-203 rifles and an additional agreement to extend cooperation between the countries on military technology for the next decade.[5]

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, December 12 - RIA Novosti. Russian-Indian military and military-technical cooperation is developing and has very good prospects, said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

"I think that Russian-Indian cooperation - military, military-technical - has very, very good prospects and very good and large reserves. We hope to implement everything that we have outlined," Shoigu said on the Russia 1 TV channel in the Moscow . Kremlin. Putin "in an interview with Pavel Zarubin.[6]

He noted the large volume of cooperation in both sea and air technology, in particular, the joint venture for the production of Bramos missiles, as well as the holding of joint exercises.

If arms procurement and cooperation between defense industries persist, Russia and India cannot help each other out against common enemies as they did during the Cold War. An example of the new situation is Afghanistan, where Russia has decided to work with the Taliban and India continues to express its foreboding over the takeover of Afghanistan by a movement fostered and raised by its arch rival Pakistan. The best the countries could do till now was to establish a consultative committee chaired by national security advisers. During the visit, Putin volunteered his concern: “We are certainly worried about everything related to terrorism and the fight against it. Just like with drugs, with organized crime. In this regard, of course, we cannot but be concerned about the situation and how it is developing in Afghanistan."[7] Lavrov offered his hosts more of the same: "We share a position with our Indian colleagues whereby the Taliban must keep its promise to ensure the inclusive ethnic and political nature of the new authority and to respect human rights, as well as to eradicate the terrorist and drug threat in Afghanistan and to prevent the spillover of instability to neighboring countries."[8]

India's Cooperation With The US  

In a joint press conference with Jaishankar, Lavrov did not criticize India's participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the US, Austrialia and Japan but attacked AUKUS, the alliance between the U.S. Australia and the United Kingdom that is also targeted at China." We expressed our serious concern about US activities under the slogan of Indo-Pacific strategies. They are creating exclusive membership blocs there. The latest example is AUKUS, a military-technological alliance of the United States, Britain and Australia. There are many questions at this point, in part, in the context of plans to organize the production of nuclear-powered submarines with a nuclear plant in Australia or export them to that country."[9]The Indian rejoinder as voiced by Jaishankar is that India conducts dialogues with many countries just like Russia: "Like many large states, India pursues an independent foreign policy. Relations with partner countries are based on their own merits. The decision to create a 2 + 2 format with Russia was based on a mutual desire to strengthen our special and privileged strategic partnership. This should be obvious to the rest of the world."[10]

Meeting of Quad representatives (Source:

Aditya Pareek, an analyst, at the Takshashila Institute in Bangalore India told Kommersant that India's relation with the US did not carry the same commitment as did partnership in the NATO alliance. Parik also mentioned the issue papered over at the summit – China. (, December 6)

"The jealously guarded strategic autonomy of Indian foreign and defense policy is nothing more than a desire to maintain its independence in protecting national interests. Such a policy does not require forced sacrifices from Delhi for the sake of fulfilling allied obligations within the framework of multilateral security treaties directed against certain states. An example of such commitments is the relationship of the Euro-Atlantic allies in the NATO bloc. Adherence to strategic autonomy allows India to work simultaneously with such organizations and groups as BRICS, RIC (Russia-India-China), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Quad, which, according to Delhi, is not an alliance or quasi-alliance.

"While viewing Russia as a friend and strategic partner, India realizes that Moscow is unlikely to be able to help it much in solving the main strategic problem - relations with China.

"China has been and remains the main strategic challenge to India's national security and territorial integrity since the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Therefore, any notion that Sino-Indian tensions are a new phenomenon, allegedly caused by US intrigues, is fundamentally wrong. It is the Chinese threat, and not any particular admiration for America, that is forcing India to actively move closer to Russia's main geopolitical adversary."[11]

Aditya Pareek (Source:

Pareek received support for this position from the Russian international affairs expert Fyodor Lukyanov who claimed that what both India and Russia were doing was implementing a contemporary version of non-alignment. As opposed to the original meaning of the term –a refusal to join either the US or the Soviet Union, now the term meant simultaneous ties and relationships with countries hostile to each other. Lukyanov wrote:

Each time [Russo-Indian meeting occur] the parties' representatives look for a more succinct and resounding way to characterize the relationship, for example 'a special privileged strategic partnership.' These definitions are an amalgamation of a long and rich common history [between the two countries], close cooperation, and an understanding of mutual importance. However, there is no point in denying that fact that ties between the two states are now greatly complicated by the open India - China confrontation, while Russian ties with China are developing actively. India views [China] with suspicion and is expanding relations with the US, which has declared China a strategic rival. Moscow is not happy about this, since the US-Russian situation has deteriorated to a point, resembling the Cold War (in its most depressing periods).

Can and should Russia choose between India and China? No, because both states are very important in terms of Russian development prospects and global stability. Can and should India choose between Russia and the US? The answer follows exactly the same logic. A similar situation obtained during the Cold War, and it's no coincidence that the phenomenon of the Non-Aligned Movement emerged thanks to India. It was easier to do back then, because the confrontation was built on ideological principles, and the states didn't have the same level of economic interconnectedness that exists now. Now everyone has to get used to the fact that there is no marked division [among the states], the economic interest is all-encompassing, but it cannot put out the fire of geopolitical rivalry. How can one figure out this ever-changing 'geometry'? But one has to do it, as the situation in the world will only get more complicated."[12]

Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council claimed that India's membership in the Quad was balanced by its simultaneous membership in organizations such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization "so it would be mistaken to think that it [India] belongs to one camp and opposes another. It has an independent foreign policy; it determines its own priorities.[13]

The Main Axis Of The Relationship Has Become The Economic One

Some, particularly on the Indian side, claimed that the major driver of Indo-Russian ties was now the economic one. An analysis in the Indian Business World argued this point cogently:

"To define the essence of India Russia bilateral relations in narrow boundary of defense is the simplistic old school narrative. A closer look will reveal the unfolding of many other dimensions of economic cooperation. It is in the critical areas of energy-security and beyond. India has already made its biggest energy investments in Russia in the past where Russian and Indian companies have been pushing for greater cooperation in the oil and gas sector beyond the $32 billion invested in joint projects,

"But what is the most important factor in the bilateral ties is certainly not the defence as against the widely perceived notion that analysts still keep harping on. That is the relics of the past and some to extent it continues with the delivery of next generation military equipment like S-400 'triumf' and Indo Russian joint collaboration and subsequent production of assault rifle AK 203 for the Indian Armed Forces. But the message is clear that India’s relation with Russia is actually unfolding in sectors like Energy in such a scale that it becomes the defining moment of the relationship. 

Recently, Russian conglomerate Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin highlighted the further scope of such ongoing joint projects, such as Sakhalin 1, Taas Yuryakh and Vankor, as well as further cooperation in the area of oil and gas production, refining, petrochemicals, and sales of hydrocarbons.

"Mutual investments into projects with the engagement of Rosneft and the Indian partners exceed $17 billion. This accounts for more than half of cumulative Russia-Indian investments to date."[14]

With Putin and Modi seated in the background Igor Sechin joins the discussions. (Source:

During the visit Rosneft signed a continuation agreement with Indian Oil under which Rosneft will supply up to 2 million tons of Russian oil. Indian Oil is also a shareholder in several Rosneft production projects in Russia.[15]

In addition to energy ties and investments, India is becoming involved in developing the Russian Far East regions. For Russia, this has two distinct advantages: The obvious one is that the Far East is direly in need of development. Indian assistance can balance Chinese involvement and investment that is simultaneously coveted and feared. Jaishankar emphasized India's involvement in his interview with Izvestiya:

"The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Vladivostok in 2019 intensified our interregional cooperation with Russia, especially in the Russian Far East. It was there that he began India's policy towards the Far East with the clear intention of actively engaging with the region. Our two countries are working together to explore opportunities for cooperation in different sectors. We are also working to expand our trade with the region. In the first half of 2021, this figure increased significantly compared to the same period last year. Both of our leaders pay special attention to the development of ties between the various states of India and the Russian Far East regions.

"Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we are actively working with Russia to deepen our ties with the Far East. Following the visit of the Prime Minister to Vladivostok, a number of high-level visits took place, including visits by two oil and natural gas ministers to Vladivostok, the last of which took place as part of the Eastern Economic Forum in September 2021. India had the largest delegation to the forum of all countries this year. The Prime Minister also spoke at a plenary meeting attended by President Putin, where he stressed India's continued interest in constructive and meaningful engagement with the Russian Far East. President Putin recognized the concept of "Sangam" (implying, according to Narendra Modi, that Vladivostok is the place of "confluence" of Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific region - Izvestiya), proposed by the Prime Minister of India as a development tool for the countries of the region.

In addition, we continue to build systems and institutions to expand our engagement with the region. We have commissioned a feasibility study for the Eastern Maritime Corridor to analyze the expansion of bilateral trade along the sea route, and it is nearing completion. We continue to maintain close contacts with the regions of the Far East through a series of virtual meetings.[16]

Although Russia has treated its anti-Covid vaccine as a source of national prestige and soft power. Vaccines are a significant export earner. During the Putin visit the Russian Direct Investment Fund reached an agreement with Indian companies to produce Sputnik vaccines both for use in India and for re-export to third countries.[17]


[1], December 6, 2021.

[2], December 6, 2021.

[3], December 6, 2021.

[4], December 6, 2021

[5], December 6, 2021.

[6], December 12, 2021.

[7], December 6, 2021.

[8], December 6, 2021.

[9], December 6, 2021.

[10], December 6, 2021.

[11], December 6, 2021.

[12], December 7, 2021.

[13], December 7, 2021.

[14], December 6, 2021.

[15], December 6, 2021.

[16], December 6, 2021.

[17], December 6, 2021.

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