At the Eighth Global Technology Summit in New Delhi on December 4, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar hailed the robust and enduring nature of India-Russia ties, emphasizing that “this relationship has saved us at times.”
This is a significant and outspoken statement by India’s very senior leader. He was responding to media on the much-trumpeted question of why India did not support the UN resolution castigating Russia for an “attack” on Ukraine.
India won the ire of the US and its European allies for declining to be a signatory to the anti-Russia resolution. Not caving into the bullying by the anti-Russian brigade, the Indian External Minister has been elaborately stating India’s position on the Ukrainian war not in isolation as the West would want but in the context of global peace and security.
The angst of some of the NATO members was so acute as to suggest that India should be brought under sanctions. At one point, the Indian External Affairs minister had to tell a correspondent that “Europe thinks its problem is the world’s problem, but the world’s problem is not its problem.”
India Has A View
India declining to be a signatory to the UN’s anti-Russia condemnation resolution is not to be considered in isolation. What was the need to create NATO when Germany was defeated in WWII?
Why has NATO been trying to enlist countries closely surrounding Russia, particularly after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991? What is the definition of “security” in NATO’s lexicon? Does NATO think its ”security” is sanctimonious and divine, whereas the security of the non-NATO world is superfluous?
It is not the first time India has said that the world order must change; thinking and attitudes must change with the fast-changing times. India, supported by nearly 120 member countries of the UN, is demanding reforming and restructuring the UN so that veto does not remain the exclusive prerogative of the privileged FIVE.
Every fifth man on the globe is an Indian. What justification does the “democratic” world have to keep the door of the UNSC shut on India?
All this notwithstanding, Jaishankar said that those upset with India’s close ties with Russia had created some handicaps for India in the context of global strategies. Refuting surmises like that, the foreign minister said, “Russia has saved us at times.”
India Had To React
The hindsight justifies India throwing her lot with the then-Soviet bloc in the early fifties. Admitting Pakistan to the Baghdad Pact and then CENTO in 1953 was a clear message to India that she was on the watchful radar of the imperialist–capitalist hit agenda. The American spy plane, shot down by the Russian fighters, was a source of frustration for Indian policy planners.
At the Security Council, which India had approached with a request that Pakistan had invaded her territory in J&K and the invasion should be vacated under the UN Charter, the Anglo-American block equated the aggressor and the aggressed with demonstrating anti-India bias over the dispute.
It was Russia that twice vetoed Anglo-American draft resolutions that went against us. The “democratic” West forced India to look East and North. They despised India adopting a secular-democratic political system. India then realized that the West was unhappy with India for her democratic and secularist dispensation. (Note Winston Churchill’s anti-India freedom speech in the British Parliament when the Transfer of Power bill was discussed in 1946).
The Non-Aligned Movement — the architect of which was the then Indian Prime Minister Nehru — was a clear indication that the developing world wanted to live peacefully without being sucked in by one or the other bloc.
Post-Soviet Era Relations
The development of India-Russia relations has been a critical pillar of India’s foreign policy. Since the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000, their bilateral ties have acquired a qualitatively new character in almost all areas: politics, defense, security, technology, trade and commerce, etc. It also included joint efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.
On April 12, 2019, President Putin signed the Executive Order on awarding PM Modi Russia’s highest state award, the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle. So far, 21 Annual Summits have taken place between the two countries. The last one was held on December 6, 2021, in New Delhi.
In 2021, PM Modi had three telephonic conversations with President Putin in which Modi thanked Putin for Russia’s assistance in fighting against the pandemic. They agreed on a 2+2 Ministerial dialogue.
India and Russia maintain close cooperation between the Security Council secretariats led by the NSA from the Indian side and the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, from the Russian side. Petrushev visited India to discuss security-related matters with his Indian counterpart.
As per the Department of Commerce figures, bilateral trade in 2020 amounted to US$8.1 billion. Indian exports amounted to US$2.6 billion, while imports from Russia amounted to US$5.48 billion. Bilateral investments remain strong and surpassed the previous target of US$30 billion in 2018, leading to a revised target of US$80 billion by 2025.
India has also developed cooperation with the Russian Far East following PM Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in 2019. Haryana–Sakhalin and UP–Zabaikalsky came up after that visit. During the 6th Eastern Economic Forum in 2021, a virtual meeting between Gujarat and the Yukutia region was organized.
India-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved from a buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development, and production of advanced defense technologies and systems.
The India-Russia joint training exercise INDRA-2021 was held in Volgograd from August 4 to 12, 2021. The seventh frigate of the P1135.6 class, Tushil, for the Indian Navy, was launched at Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad on October 28, 2021
Russia is an essential partner in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Moscow recognized India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record.
Kudankulam Nuclear Power land Units 1 and 2 have already become operational. India-Russia cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space dates back about four decades.
The Three main institutional mechanisms for bilateral Science and Technology Cooperation are the Working Group on Science and Technology functioning under IRGC, the Integrated Long Term Program (LTP), and the Basic Science Cooperation Program.
How Russia Saved India
As defense analyst and former Indian military pilot, VK Thakur pointed out, Fifty-two years ago, on December 5, 1971, the nuclear-powered and armed aircraft carrier of the US 7th fleet – USS Enterprise – was refueling at sea along with support ships of a special task force that was assembling under orders of the then-US President Richard Nixon.
The task force was to enter the Bay of Bengal through the Malacca Strait to intervene in the ongoing India-Pakistan conflict in support of Pakistan. The US hoped to stop the advance of the Indian Army on Dhaka. And if that did not prove possible, to extricate Pakistani forces trapped in East Pakistan – now Bangladesh!
No precise orders were given to the captain of the USS Enterprise, but carte blanche options would have included attacking Indian military bases. The Russians (then the Soviet Union) had alerted India to the assembly and intent of the USS Enterprise task force, and the Indian Air Force and/or the Indian Navy had asked for volunteer pilots willing to crash their fighters into the USS Enterprise.
Luckily for India, the rapid advance of the Indian army to Dhaka limited US Navy options. Also, the Soviet Union’s Navy Chief, Admiral Gorshkov, ordered a Soviet Navy SSGN pursuing the task force to surface and reveal its presence to a US reconnaissance satellite passing overhead.
It was a risky move – the ambiguity about its current position is the trump card of a nuclear submarine. However, the bold Soviet Navy move rattled the US Navy. It dawned on them that the USS Enterprise would need to deal with Soviet SSGNs while fighting Indian forces under their mutual security pact.
Understandably, the USS Enterprise was asked to steam towards Sri Lanka instead of the Bay of Bengal! Hopefully, those Indians who didn’t know the above now understand why Jaishankar said that, in the past, Russia has saved India.
Yes, he was not just talking about the countless Russian vetoes in the UNSC that kept Kashmir a part of India despite strong Western support for Pakistan.
This is a very brief summation of the India-Russia relationship during a few recent years. The purpose is to give a bird’s eye view of how deep, comprehensive, and visionary the relations between India and Russia are.
MEA Jaishankar was right in saying that this level of relationship is not developed in a year or a decade. Russia has played the most significant role in helping India transform into a modern state capable of independently devising its policies and programs.
Voting for or against Russia in controversial global issues is not strictly based on euphoric friendship; it is undoubtedly based on ground realities and pragmatism, among the fundamentals of astute statesmanship.