India Russia: Strategic Relations
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Issue Vol 23.1 Jan-Mar2008 | Date : 03 Dec , 2011

The India-Russia strategic relations with its embedded military ties have been, in the past 15 years, buffeted by the turbulence of international upheavals and domestic events. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war have quite dramatically altered the dynamics of this strategic relationship. The emergence of a unipolar world with the USA as the sole superpower impinged adversely on a once ‘special’ relationship and forced both Russia and India to review their geo-political calculations in the light of a changed geo-political environment.

While a brave front was kept up, the reality was that the capability of the Indian armed forces with 80% of its hardware from Soviet Union, remained severely compromised for an unacceptably long period.

Having earlier claimed for itself a leading role in the non-aligned movement(NAM) as a counterweight to the two superpower-led blocs, India found itself searching for identity and place in international affairs with the demise of one superpower. India had neither the economic clout nor any other attribute of power to be reckoned with in the world political arena. The rise of insurgency and secessionistic tendencies, both within the country and in its neighbourhood, shifted the focus of defence and security to internal stability. A fortress-mentality protectionist economic model, based on the Soviet pattern, was abandoned and India reached out to global donors for economic rejuvenation. In a suddenly unfamiliar scenario, India began to address its own economic vulnerabilities which stood out in stark contrast to the success of the Asian Tigers. Its somewhat diminished stature forced India to assess the world through the prism of its own interests.

At the same time the Russian domestic scene underwent major convulsions. The high residual costs of the collapsed Soviet model manifested itself with the economy in disarray and starvation on the streets. The Russian leadership abandoned its ideology based foreign policy and the special relations with India became a casualty. Russian leadership, dominated by ‘west’ oriented members, adopted a neutral stance towards India. Two schools of thought emerged. One comprising academics and defence industry professionals, were for continuing the special relations with India, which they argued, could stem the wave of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping across the Central Asia. Additionally, the income accruing from India’s import of Russian arms would be crucial to Russia’s transition to a free market economy. The other school of thought, comprising foreign ministry incumbents, were of the opinion that Pakistan had a vital role in fulfilling Russia’s immediate concerns of foreign policy and security, and that Islamic fundamentalism, boiling over in Russia’s southern flank would be best tackled by working closely with Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. That the second school prevailed was demonstrated by the change of policy by Russia in supporting the Pakistan sponsored UN resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in South Asia. This policy somersault was followed by Russia severing all support to Najibullah in Afghanistan, much to the consternation of India. The strain in Indo-Russian relations was again manifest in Russia reneging on the cryogenic engine and transfer of technology deal under intense pressure from the USA. The huge debt run up by India for purchase of arms from the erstwhile Soviet Union, amounting to over $16 billion became another issue of dispute. The rupee-ruble exchange rate and the repayment scheduling developed into irritants in the relations and it was much later that a mutually agreeable deal was hammered out.

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Air Marshal Narayan Menon

Air Marshal Narayan Menon

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