Russia and India have been friends for 60 years. India’s non-aligned stand notwithstanding, she was close to the USSR, even as Indian films were lionized by the Russians. Bilateral relations were at a high as both had a common outlook towards world affairs. However the balance seems to have tilted, with India veering more towards the US – a reason for a cooling-off between the former allies.
Under Pandit Nehru – an advocate of non-alignment – India and the Soviet Union were natural allies. While the latter supported India at the UN over the Kashmir problem, India reciprocated by approving of the Soviet-Afghanistan operation during the 1970s. In 1955 Khrushchev had made a statement affirming his country’s closeness to India. 1971 was the year when a treaty of friendship, peace and cooperation shone bright, soldering further bonds.
In 1991 the collapse of the Soviet Union led to lukewarm relations with many countries including India. Russia was involved in creating order out of chaos. Three Russian Presidents seem to have realized the strategic importance of China in their threat perceptions, and shifted their priorities accordingly – Gorbachev, Yeltsin and now Vladimir Putin.
Present scenario: Defense
Today, another shift has taken place, with Russia and India wanting to return to their former footing. PM Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Russia was a step towards improving relations, as he emphasized that Russia was India’s most vital partner in defense cooperation. Even though India has had military imports exceeding $35 billion in the past, things do not seem as rosy anymore. The delay in modernizing INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Russian Gorshhkov) and the reneging on the deal by the Russians, has created discord between them. Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta even spoke of turning to countries like France, Israel, UK and USA for further defense purchases.
Trade relations are at an ebb at the moment, but both have realized that there are common meeting points, including stability in Central and South Asia. India needs gas while Russia needs aid to eradicate jihadi fundamentalism in Uzbekistan. India is keen to obtain energy from Russia, with ONGC Videsh having secured a stake in the Sakhalin oil and gas project. Indian businessmen also need to shake off their lethargy and think of business with the vibrant Russian market.
Though noticeably upset over Delhi’s new intimacy with the US and the Civil Nuclear Deal that is in the pipeline, Russia is already involved in the Koodankulam Project, and is expected to continue with its cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.
Culture and education
2008 will be the ‘Year of Russia’ in India, wherein Russia will organize dance, theatre, art, and film festivals to make Indians aware of Russian culture. There is already an exchange of students from both countries to further their education in both technical and non-technical fields, as well as art and culture.
The thawing of relations between the erstwhile allies should be mutually beneficial in a unipolar world. Both have much to gain, and besides, isn’t it time they got back to the days of amity when Raj Kapoor and Awara were ruling the roost in Russia? How do you think this will affect India’s relations with the US?