S. Jaishankar’s visit to Russia: Embracing the tradition of Kautilya politics

In the year 2023, the intricate course of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Moscow reached a culmination with the visit of the Indian Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar, to Russia.

In the year 2023, the intricate course of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Moscow reached a culmination with the visit of the Indian Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar, to Russia. The resilience of the historical India-Russia “old friendship” came into question when the Indian government, amidst a dynamic global political situation, opted to engage more with the United States. Reflecting upon the nuances of global politics in his book, “The India Way,” Jaishankar asserted, “Geopolitics and balance of power are the underpinnings of international relations. India itself has a tradition of Kautilya politics that places a premium on them.” Despite the reconstruction of the partnership between India and the United States over two decades, it is challenging to maintain its stability. In the realm of nations, alliances are forged based on shared interests rather than genuine friendship. Nonetheless, Jaishankar’s visit to Russia has underscored the resilience of an enduring “old friendship.”

The interplay between the dynamics of United States-China relations and the Russia-Ukraine war posed formidable challenges for Indian foreign policy. Despite India’s diplomatic efforts and calls for a peaceful resolution in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, its voice remained unheard by both Western nations and Russia. Prime Minister Modi’s counsel to President Putin, advocating for a contemporary era characterized by peaceful means, unfortunately, went unheeded. Amidst these geopolitical complexities, India endeavoured to navigate its relations with Moscow, albeit with a discernible tilt towards the United States. India abstained from various votes against Russia at the UN General Assembly and refrained from implementing sanctions against Moscow. Nevertheless, the evolving closeness between Russia and China has given rise to an unfavourable situation for India, evident in a decline in arms imports from Moscow and a divergence in sources for defense procurement.

The five-day visit of Jaishankar to Russia played a pivotal role in rejuvenating strained ties. The discussions between Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart, Lavrov, encompassed a comprehensive review of international situations and contemporary issues. Topics included the Indo-Pacific, the Ukraine conflict, the Gaza situation, Afghanistan and Central Asia, BRICS, SCO, G20, and the UN, alongside bilateral matters such as economic cooperation, energy trade, connectivity efforts, military-technical cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges. Russia appreciated India’s responsible approach in its stance on the Ukraine conflict, emphasizing a commitment to fair international cooperation based on national interests.

Critical agreements were inked during the visit, including the expansion of hydrocarbon exports to India, cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and collaborations in medicine, pharmaceutical substances, and medical devices. Plans for long-term arrangements for Russian supplies of energy, cooking coal, and fertilizers were also discussed. Notably, amendments were signed for further cooperation in upcoming units at the Kudankulam nuclear power project, affirming Russian support for the fifth and sixth reactors.

The focus on space programs, rocket engines, satellite navigation systems, and military hardware underscored the importance of technical-military cooperation and joint production of modern weapons. Amid increasing tensions in Eurasia, both India and Russia expressed a shared commitment to regional peace. Connectivity initiatives, including the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor, and the Northern Polar Route, were extensively discussed to bolster trade.

Addressing economic cooperation, discussions with Deputy PM Manturov resulted in the finalization of a program for cooperation in the Far East. The two sides also agreed to an early meeting for EaEU-India Free Trade Agreement negotiations, while India raised concerns about trade imbalances. Steps were outlined to address payment issues, with a scheduled meeting in January.

Navigating the complexities of a multipolar world with weakened multilateralism poses challenges to reconciling global goods with national interests. The United States has recently brought charges against Nikhil Gupta, an Indian citizen, for allegedly attempting to assassinate prominent Sikh activist and the American citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannu. The charges suggest that Gupta, a drug dealer, conspired to carry out the plot on the instructions of an Indian intelligence official. This development has posed a challenge for India’s global reputation and may prompt introspection about its alignment with the U.S. The American President, Joe Biden, also canceled his upcoming visit as the chief guest to New Delhi for the celebration of Republic Day. Regardless of personal preferences, India-US relations have experienced some strain. India must navigate with caution to enhance its political and economic prospects.

In the designated year of 2024, marked by electoral processes both on a global scale and within India, the geopolitical terrain foretells a period of heightened dynamism. The forthcoming elections in the United States and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan will be closely monitored in India. However, there is no doubt that Moscow will have the same president. Against this backdrop, India’s distinct positioning in global politics, particularly in its relationship with Moscow, assumes heightened significance. Effectively navigating its relations with China, shaping India’s role in Africa through BRICS, fostering improved connections to Central Asia, and enhancing cooperation in outer space—India stands poised to achieve its political goals through the restructuring of the longstanding India-Russia “old friendship” across multiple dimensions. Prioritizing trade with Moscow is a critical area that demands focused attention. Cultural diplomacy has the potential to unveil numerous possibilities and fortify India-Russia relations. In the present situation, for India in its management of China, there is no more suitable friend than Russia. As mentioned by Jaishankar, in a period where choices are less evident and risks are more intricate for India, Russia emerges as a clearer and less complicated option.The “old friendship” between India and Russia has always been affected by international dynamics, yet its reliability has steadfast.

Archana Sharma
Archana Sharma
I am a freelance Geopolitical Research Analyst. My area of research includes Foreign policy and Space diplomacy. I hold a Master's degree in Diplomacy, Law and Business and a Bachelor degree in Electronics and communication engineering.