A Welcome Resurgence In India-Russia Relations

The Republic of India and the Russian Federation have long held strong ties between themselves. The Cold War period was the closest India came to an alliance-based partnership with the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a then superpower, having emerged as an all-weather friend of post-colonial India. Well short of allies, friends, and support systems owing to a definitive turn of the United States of America (USA) towards Pakistan after an initial bromance with India after 1947, New Delhi was left to the USSR and its unconditional support as it looked to emerge on the world stage. Following the collapse of the USSR in the early 90s, India retained strong and sturdy bonds of friendship with its considerably weakened Eurasian neighbour in Russia.
India’s desire to dip its toes in many a waters is well evinced from its changing view of the United States. Although there still remain considerable differences between India and the US on several issues of contemporary international significance despite being democracies, India has become keen on purchasing top-grade military equipment from the US, in particular. A recent decision to suspend the purchase of US$ 3 billion worth of Predator drones from the American defense technology firm Lockheed Martin, however, does re-emphasise Indian commitment towards atmanirbharta or self-reliance in the realm of defense. India is also emerging as a world-class arms exporter with the recent decision to export the BRAHMOS (incidentally, a joint Indo-Russian creation) to Philippines having become a historical moment for the Indian defense industry.

The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation (signed August 9, 1971) recently completed its golden jubilee and remains an inspiration for improving India-Russia relations. India and Russia should be compelled to redefine Soviet-era norms of cooperation and set the tone for possibly a century-long treaty that commits both sides to each other for the longest of terms. The rise to prominence of the Indo-Pacific region also further aids and assists Russian geostrategic interests in the Indian Ocean rim.


With the return of normalcy in India-Russia relations following a hiatus of at least five years, an old order has rigidly resurfaced and regained its lost stature and past. As things stand, India and Russia are in the midst of reinvigorating a special relationship and are urgently realizing the need to retain the finer geopolitical tenets of the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in regions such as the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and the Indo-Pacific.

The Partnership was epitomized by the signing of twenty-eight Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs) during the visit of Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to New Delhi in December 2021. Further, the Joint Statement between the two parties figured a massive ninety-nine pointers that have set the course for future bilateral cooperation between the two strategic partners. A detailed assessment of the list suggests that India and Russia are keen on a holistic rapprochement in the international domain having lost some of their considerable traditional friendship and cooperation. Traditional defense parameters between the two countries were highlighted by the extension afforded to the Military-Technical Programme (or the Defense Cooperation Programme, incepted in 1994).

The ongoing conflict over the absorption of Ukraine into anti-Western Russia which involves the fiercely anti-Russian US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has also staged a much welcome involvement of India. India has lodged its stance unequivocally in favour of Russia with it even being believed that India is far from ‘neutral’ regarding the conflict and covertly supports the integration of erstwhile Soviet states into the Russian Federation. India’s abstention from a vote against Russia in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the Ukraine matter led to Moscow expressing its gratitude to New Delhi and lauding its bravery on the world’s highest decision-making body. Thus, it can be safely hypothesised that India attaches immense significance to its strategic autonomy while also being careful to not abandon its time-tested friends and partners such as Russia.

Moreover, the strategic partnership between Pakistan and the United States was re-affirmed by Washington D. C.. Further, the US remains reliant on Pakistan to gain inputs and assistance towards combatting terrorism in the world’s most dangerous region, colloquially known as Af-Pak. For India, there also remains the distinct possibility of the return of US defense aid to Pakistan (an example being that of US technical support extended to the Pakistani arsenal of Lockheed-Martin F-16s) and this could impact the Indo-US strategic partnership to its detriment.

An issue of contention for the India-Russia friendship itself is Russia’s nascent but increasing affiliation with Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Russia precisely during the Russo-Ukraine conflict and cooperation in the energy sector was furthered between the two sides. A visit of President Putin to Islamabad has been scheduled for some time from now. Even the USSR, too, had taken an interest in developing relations with Pakistan during the Cold War times. In this regard, an article in The Print urges Russia to not take Pakistan too seriously and commit its long-term self to India and India alone.


The Indo-Pacific, while not a Russian stronghold in terms of geostrategic influence, is witness to a large number of geopolitical imbalances resulting in the United States having imposed its leadership in the region. While Russia also maintains a stance of unequivocal friendship towards China, its equation with India is now strongly emphasized and for the better. This does create a dilemma for Russia to a certain extent given that India is largely antagonist to China owing to personal conflicts while close ties between, say, India and Japan and India and South Korea also doesn’t fall within Moscow’s better interests. Differences between India and Russia need to be resolved through a separate dialogue which can be secretive in nature. R. Jagannathan, noted Indian strategic affairs scholar, encouraged India to gain stakes in Russia’s rise (and rightly so) and intertwine the same with its own.

A partnership with America remains on the backfoot and seems to be now featuring mere cooperation involving a large number of multilateral outlets such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and Indo-Pacific maritime security forums. Routine India-US meetings, too, are now according equal priority to multilateralism over other bilateral facets while India and Russia retain a traditional duopoly between themselves. While the US expressed hopes for Indian leadership in the Indo-Pacific given the blue-water prowess of its navy, there remain maritime concerns between India and America. The recent US Navy Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOPs) in the Bay of Bengal which transgressed India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) serves as a timely reminder of a warped past in the same sea area.

It remains to be seen how accepting Russia attempts to become of the rising strategic profile of the Indo-Pacific region – a predominantly maritime area which has interested all of the world’s major powers and positioned India all too well in maritime domain. The Director-General of the National Maritime Foundation, Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, aptly quoted the Indo-Pacific – “We will all sail or sink in 100 years. It’s about how dexterously and adroitly we dance on the oceans”. For Moscow, the Indo-Pacific presents a geostrategic opportunity like no other to re-assert the lost supremacy from the Soviet era and in tune with its military assertions in eastern Europe.

In the Indian Ocean, in particular, Russia is more than capable of casting its naval shadow and interest itself in sea lanes’ security. This would help the country continue to reinforce its credentials to global superpowerdom by ensuring comprehensive maritime domain awareness (MDA) of the vast seas and oceans to its immense south. For now, it can be safely assumed that Russia, at the very least, may not be eyeing the Indo-Pacific region but is certainly looking at India again with pleased eyes.

Jay Maniyar
Jay Maniyar
Jay Maniyar is a Researcher affiliated to the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi, India. His work has involved the writing of research articles and papers on topics relevant to Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific regions.