[Letters] India and Russia: Friends foreverSince 1955, when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made his maiden visit to the erstwhile Soviet Union and Khrushchev’s reciprocal trip to India same year, Indo-Russian ties have withstood the test of time.
During this period of over half a century, both nations ferried through turbulent waters. But the relationship between Moscow and New Delhi was never adversely affected per se.
Though well on track presently, the ties went lukewarm during 90s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kremlin’s assistance to India suddenly stopped and India, already faced with its worst-ever economic crisis, had to turn to the West to keep its economy afloat.
But bilateral ties regained momentum with the changing of the guard in Russia in 2000. President Vladimir Putin’s keen interest in taking ties ahead with its old ally and India’s active reciprocal gesture to the “time-tested friend” has made the relationship multidimensional. Notwithstanding the absence of any major area of strategic divergence, Moscow is wary of India’s cosy relationship with the U.S.
But in the era of globalization, international relations is not a zero sum game. India has tried its best to clear the air by repeatedly stating that its ties with other countries will not in any way impact the special relationship New Delhi enjoys with Moscow. The Kremlin’s transfer of modern defense equipment and technologies to India are, in a way, a means to keep New Delhi allied with Moscow.
Another major factor guiding the Indo-Russian ties is the rise of China. Even though Russia and China have dramatically improved their ties since the end of Cold War, the Kremlin is worried about the dragon’s growing influence in the world.
Thus, an undeclared attempt to “contain” China is also behind unconditional defense and technological assistance to India from Russia. At present, Russia is building two 1000-megawatt nuclear reactors in Koodankulam and eight more are in the works.
Currently, annual bilateral trade stands at about $10 billion. During President Dmitry Medvedev’s state visit to India in December last year, the two set a target of $20 billion by 2015.
Also there is great scope for cooperation in education. Right now, the number of Indian students in Russian universities is just about 5,000 as opposed to more than a hundred thousand each in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Russia has unequivocally supported India’s increased role in global affairs - be it India’s bid for permanent seat in the UN Security Council or membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
In the wake of the rise of China and India, the resurgence of Russia and the resultant quest for a multipolar world, the ties are bound to deepen further. As per the joint statement issued on Medvedev’s India visit, the relationship has been built up to the level of “special and privileged strategic partnership.”
Sameer Jafri, a political analyst based in India.