Bilateral Relations: India-Russia Relations

India-Russia Defence Cooperation

India-Russia Bilateral Brief

          Russia has been a longstanding and time-tested partner for India. Development of India-Russia relations has been a key pillar of India's foreign policy. Since the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 (during the visit of President Putin), India-Russia ties have acquired a qualitatively new character with enhanced levels of cooperation in almost all areas, including political, security, defence, trade and economy, science & technology, culture, and people-to-people ties. During the visit of the Russian President to India in December 2010, the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.” Under the Strategic Partnership, several institutionalized dialogue mechanisms operate at both political and official levels to ensure regular interaction and follow-up on cooperation activities. The India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission (IRIGC) has two divisions – the Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) headed by the EAM from India and Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Denis Manturov from Russia; and the Military & Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-M&MTC) headed by the Defence Ministers of the two countries. In December 2021, a new dimension to the bilateral cooperation was added with the first 2+2 Dialogue (Foreign and Defence Ministers of both countries) taking place alongside the Summit-level talks between President Putin & Prime Minister.

Leaders’ engagements
The Annual Summit between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism in the strategic partnership between India and Russia. So far, 21 Annual Summits have taken place alternatively in India and Russia. The last Summit was held on December 6, 2021 in New Delhi where 28 MoUs and agreements were signed. Their last meeting took place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on the sidelines of the SCO Summit. Since then, the leaders have maintained regular contact through telephone conversations to review progress on bilateral cooperation and exchange views on regional and global issues of mutual interest – 5 telephone conversations in 2022 and 2 telephone conversations in 2023 – June 30 and on August 28.

Ministerial engagements
Both countries remain in touch at ministerial level as well. The Foreign Ministers – EAM & Foreign Minister Lavrov meet regularly bilaterally as well as on the sidelines of major events. In 2023, they met on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Jakarta (September 6 and July 13), BRICS in South Africa (August 23 and June 1), SCO (May 4 in Goa) & G20 (March 1 in New Delhi) meetings. EAM last visited Moscow in November 2022 for meetings with FM Lavrov and Deputy PM Denis Manturov, his co-Chair of IRIGC-TEC. Similarly, the Defence Ministers, NSAs and other ministers regularly meet their counterparts. Indian delegation to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum headed by Minister of Health & Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya in 2021 & Minister of State for Steel & Rural Development Faggan Singh Kulaste in 2022. At the Eastern Economic Forum 2023, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways & AYUSH Sarbananda Sonowal led the Indian delegation.

Inter-Governmental Commission
The primary mechanism for enhancing trade and economic cooperation is the IRIGC-TEC, which had its 24th session in New Delhi on April 18, 2023. On November 8, 2022, EAM & Deputy PM Denis Manturov held a meeting of the co-Chairs of the IRIGC-TEC in Moscow. They reviewed progress of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries and agreed to work together to address the trade deficit and market access issues. DPM Manturov also held bilateral meetings with the Commerce & Industry, Finance Minister and the NSA. They also held the “India-Russia Business Dialogue” to deepen the bilateral commercial cooperation. IRIGC-MMTC, co-chaired by the Indian and Russian Defence Ministers last met in New Delhi on December 6, 2021 during the Summit between the leaders and the inaugural 2+2 Dialogue.

Multilateral engagement
India & Russia are also members and cooperate closely at several multilateral platforms such as the UN, G20, BRICS & SCO. India’s Presidency of the G20 & SCO in 2023 afforded the opportunity for officials and ministers of both countries to meet on the sidelines of various events in India. Russian participation at SCO events included Foreign Minister Lavrov (4-5 May), Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev (29 March), Minister of Emergency Situations Alexander Kurenkov (20 April) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (28 April). During its Presidency of the G20, India hosted Foreign Minister Lavrov (1-3 March & 9-10 September) and Head of the Federation Council (Upper House of Russian Parliament) Ms Valentina Matvienko (12-15 October). Both the countries have an excellent history of close cooperation in the UN. Russia has consistently supported India’s candidature for a permanent seat at the UNSC.    

Trade & Economic relations
Intensifying the trade and economic relations has been identified as a priority area by both the leaders, as is clear by the revised targets of increasing bilateral investment to $50 billion and bilateral trade to $30 billion by 2025. As per figures of Department of Commerce, in April-December 2022, the bilateral trade has reached an all-time high of $45 billion with a trade deficit of $35bn in Russia’s favor. Major items of export from India include pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, electrical machinery and mechanical appliances, iron & steel, while major items of import from Russia include oil and petroleum products, fertilizers, mineral resources, precious stones and metals, vegetable oils, etc.

Bilateral trade in services has remained stable during the last 5 years with trade balance in Russia’s favor. It amounted to $1.021 billion for the year 2021. Bilateral investments between the two countries remain strong and surpassed the previous target of $30 billion in 2018, leading to revised target of $50 billion by 2025. The major bilateral investments by Russia in India are in the oil and gas, petrochemicals, banking, railways and steel sectors, while Indian investments in Russia are mainly in oil and gas and pharmaceuticals sectors.

Defence & Security Cooperation
India has longstanding and wide-ranging cooperation with Russia in the field of defence. It is guided by the Agreement on the Programme for Military Technical Cooperation signed between the two countries. The Agreement for 2021-2031 was signed during the inaugural meeting of India-Russia 2+2 Dialogue which was held in Delhi on 6th December 2021.

In this institutionalized structure to oversee the issues around military and military-technical cooperation, the IRIGC-MMTC is at the apex, headed by the Defence Ministers of both countries. The 20th IRIGC-MMTC meeting was held in December 2021. India & Russia participate in bilateral and multilateral military exercises across the three services. The bilateral exercise INDRA was last held in 2021. They also participate in multilateral exercises such as Vostok 2022 held in September 2022 in Russia.

Bilateral projects include the supply of S-400, licensed production of T-90 tanks and Su-30 MKI, supply of MiG-29 and Kamov helicopters, INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov), production of Ak-203 rifles in India and BrahMos missiles.  India-Russia military technical cooperation has evolved over time from a buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems.

Parliamentary Cooperation
The Russian Federal Assembly (Parliament) is bicameral with India-Russia Friendship Groups in the State Duma (Lower House) and the Federation Council (Upper House). Until the COVID-19 pandemic, there were bilateral visits of Parliamentarians with the last visit of the Speaker of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin to India on December 9, 2018 for the 5th India-Russia Interparliamentary Commission, which he co-chaired with the then Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan. At the recent P20 Summit in October 2023, head of the Federation Council Ms Valentina Matvienko led the Russian delegation to New Delhi, where she also met Prime Minister and had a bilateral meeting with the Vice President of India, who noted that the newly created friendship group in the Lok Sabha will pave the way for better interaction between the two countries.

Science & Technology Cooperation
Science & Technology has played a key role in the bilateral India-Russia (and India-Soviet) partnership, especially in the early days after India’s independence where the erstwhile Soviet Union’s assistance was crucial to the establishment of Bhilai Steel Plant, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and India’s space program. During the early stages of the Indian space program , Soviet Union’s assistance played a key role in launch of first Indian satellites-Aryabhatta and Bhaskara and launch of the first Indian in space Wg Cdr Rakesh Sharma, who went aboard the Soyuz T-11 space shuttle in 1984. Today, India & Russia work together on basic sciences, materials science, mathematics and cutting-edge areas like India’s manned spaceflight program (Gaganyaan), nanotechnologies and quantum computing. India’s only nuclear power plant established with another country is the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant in Tamil Nadu. The bilateral cooperation is guided by the new roadmap for Science, Technology & Innovation signed during the 21st Annual Summit in New Delhi in December 2021. It is expected to boost innovation-related engagements between the two countries and focus on commercialization of technologies and full-cycle support for joint projects of economic and societal impact. In January 2023, the 12th meeting of the Russia-India Working Group on Science and Technology took place with representatives of the relevant ministries, universities and scientists of both countries.

Education is a major source for the Indian population in Russia. Indian students study medicine across Russia. As per most recent data, there are around 25,000 Indian nationals of which a majority are Indian students studying medicine. There are also Indian students studying engineering, economics, sciences and other subjects in other universities. There is a prominent emphasis on the study of Indology in Russian universities and the teaching of Indian languages, including subjects like Sanskrit & Pali, along with more contemporary studies. At the school-level, the Atal Innovation Mission of India and SIRIUS Center collaborate together as part of an initiative envisioned by Prime Minister and President Putin. They collaborate on innovations in different focus areas like smart mobility, agri-tech, clean energy, space research and healthcare. PM and President Putin jointly visited the presentation of these students in Sochi, Russia (2018) and at IIT Delhi (2019).

Consular Cooperation
India is represented by an Embassy in Moscow, 2 Consulates (St Petersburg & Vladivostok) and 2 Honorary Consul Generals in Astrakhan & Ekaterinburg. Aside from the Embassy in New Delhi, Russia has 3 Consulates (Kolkata, Mumbai & Chennai) in India. Russian citizens can avail the e-visa facility to visit India, and starting from August 2023, Indian citizens too, can apply for a unified e-visa to visit Russia.

Cultural Cooperation
India-Russia cultural relations predate India’s independence with Russians like the artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich depicting beautiful scenes of the Himalayas and eventually settling down in Himachal Pradesh. Writers like Leo Tolstoy & Alexander Pushkin had a profound influence on Indian literature and thought. Indian cinema was especially popular in the Soviet period with screenings in most major cities and urban centers. The popularity and ubiquity of Indian movies and actors is still remembered fondly today. In the recent times, Indian cinema has begun to make a gradual comeback with more frequent film screenings across Russia. Yoga is immensely popular across Russia as well with very enthusiastic and large gatherings of participants each year on International Day of Yoga. In the recent months, a Festival of India in Russia has been concluded with performances across several cities in Russia and both sides remain in touch on ways to increase cooperation for a more contemporary connect between the people of India & Russia.

Diaspora & people-to-people ties
The people-to-people ties between the two countries date back to the 15th century with the merchant Afanasy Nikitin travelling to India and documenting his experiences. Later other Russian artists like Nicholas Roerich and Vasily Vereshagin. Even before India’s independence, prominent figures like the poet Rabindranath Tagore visited the Soviet Union and was greatly inspired by the education system. The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi’s lengthy correspondence with the Russian author Leo Tolstoy had such a profound effect, that Mahatma Gandhi’s farm in South Africa was named Tolstoy Farm. After India’s independence, the connect with the Soviet Union remained strong, especially with science, technology and literature. The people-to-people ties remain strong with gradual increase in bilateral tourism. The facility of e-visas for both countries has helped accelerate this process. Prominent Indians have been conferred Russian state awards for their contribution to building and strengthening Russia-India political, scientific and cultural ties. PM himself has been conferred the highest Russian state honor (Order of St Andrew the Apostle). Other Indian awardees for Russian state awards include former Minister of HRD Murli Manohar Joshi (Order of Friendship), the founder CEO & MD of BrahMos Aerospace Dr A Pillai (Order of Friendship), classical Indian dance teacher Padmaju Mandayam Gomatam (Order of Friendship), among many others. Prominent Russians who have been awarded Indian state honors include the late Ambassador Alexander Kadakin (Padma Bhushan), Prof Grigory Bondarevsky (Padma Shri), Prof Tatyana Shaumyan (Padma Shri) and others.

The bilateral relationship has remained strong and stable over 75 years. The Indian Embassy in Moscow was the first Mission abroad by independent India. It is a broad-based partnership with steady support from the political leadership. The India-Russia partnership has been among the steadiest in the contemporary era with a shared commitment to a multipolar world as well to expand the engagement beyond the traditional military, nuclear and space cooperation. In the recent months, the bilateral trade has expanded significantly, exceeding the target of $30bn that was set earlier for 2025, though there is an imbalance in Russia’s favor, which both countries are working to resolve. There are discussions on ways to increase exports from India as well developing new models of cooperation. Both countries also look to strengthen inter-regional cooperation, especially with the Russian Far East and connectivity initiatives like the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chennai-Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor. There is a synergy between Russia’s pivot to the East, its resource and technology complementarity and India’s own flagship initiatives such as Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India.