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10 January – A ROBUST FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN INDIA AND RUSSIA

. 21st India Russia summit could not be held in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions but was revived in 2021 as India and Russia celebrate “5 decades of 1971 treaty of peace”. This treaty initiated a multi front strategic partnership course between India and Russia and also marked a shift in India’s position vis-a-vis the cold war and led to many regional relationship-rejigs. Russia’s friendship is a key pivot for India in the evolving geopolitical situation.
. Russia shares a robust trade relationship with China, although many would argue that it is heavily skewed in China’s favor.China in turn is almost a ‘provider’ government for Pakistan, and India and China haven’t had a civil relationship for some years now, escalated by border conflicts in Ladakh.
. The US, another of India’s strategic allies with a huge focus on the Indo Pacific region (due to increased China aggression), pulled out of Afghanistan this year, adding to the volatile geopolitics emerging in the region.
. The joint statement from the India-Russia summit highlighted their concurrence on the situation in Afghanistan. India has been dialing up on the Russian connect since the beginning of 2021 to mitigate the risks emerging out of Afghanistan. India’s special ‘privileged status’ with Russia needs to be exploited to the hilt to reduce the accelerated progress of China in Afghanistan.
. China has an aggressive colonization approach towards smaller or fragile countries in the central Asian region and views India as its challenger to regional dominance.
. India shares borders with Pakistan and China both of whom work as a team to keep India engaged in conflicts along its borders. To add to it is the presence of highly trained and armed Taliban fighters who can be used by any of the parties for spreading terrorism in India.
. It is on Afghanistan that Russia and India may need to focus more. The summit statement talked of the roadmap for bilateral consultation and cooperation on Afghanistan and one has to wait for further outcomes. It may be recalled that a regional security dialogue on Afghanistan among the NSAs of key countries in the region was hosted by New Delhi a month back, but China and Pakistan had not participated.
. The push should be to bring other invested countries in the region such as Iran to share a common platform with India and Russia on Afghanistan.
. Russia has huge treasure troves of information about Afghanistan including insights into its tough and rugged topography and maps. This institutional knowledge from a power like Russia has to be appropriately channeled by strategic allies such as India to arrest the march of China in the region.
. Another key aspect of Indo-Russian partnership is economics which despite the defence deals and cooperation in energy sector has remained lukewarm on trade in goods and services front.
. The 21st summit in Delhi targeted $30 bn trade and $50 bn in investment in the next four years. It leaves a lot of room for growth.
. India and Russia have so far limited their economic ties to public sector companies except in the case of Rosneft that bought Essar oil in 2017. The private sector companies from both countries need to take this relationship to the next level.
. India and Russia reaffirmed the strength of their abiding deep, multi-decade ties, building further confidence in each other through substantive defence agreements.
. Moscow has agreed on a 10-year military-technical plan that includes technology transfer to India. And trade received a fillip through an agreement for India to produce more than 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
. For India’s part, despite resistance from Washington through its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, New Delhi will proceed with purchasing the S-400 missile defence system from Moscow.
. The challenges facing India and Russia in terms of maintaining this momentum in bilateral exchanges are multidimensional.
• First, and most imminently, the pandemic has periodically crippled the growth of both economies and the threats to public health remain despite considerable progress with vaccinations.
• Second, Russia-U.S. ties are showing signs of fraying yet again, this time over U.S. President Joe Biden’s intention, reportedly, to warn Mr. Putin that Russia will face “economy-jarring sanctions” if it seeks to occupy Ukraine, a fear that has grown in the U.S. as Russian troops massed near the Ukraine border.
• India has so far held firm to its mantra of ‘strategic autonomy’ in a multipolar world, but South Block will have to work hard to manage the tightrope act between Moscow and Washington.
• Third, India and China have forged an uneasy truce across their Himalayan border in the aftermath of the Galwan valley exchange in 2020, yet there are numerous potential flashpoints that could send ties into a spiral again, including China’s historically provocative actions in the South China Sea and its thinly veiled insecurity about India joining the Quad for Indo-Pacific security.
. Moscow has adroitly managed to remain friends with both its mega-neighbours, but it will require a robust focus on confidence-boosting cooperative initiatives if India and Russia are to safely navigate the complex geopolitical landscape that they occupy.

(GS Paper-2/ International Relations/ Russia

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