BRICS: Cementing India-Russia Ties

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During a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza on July 15, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to further deepen and broad-base the Indo-Russian strategic partnership. Considering the deep and wide scope of issues that impact prospects and substance of bilateral relations, Alexandra Arkhangelskaya presents a brief SWOT analysis to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of India-Russia relations

As India marks the return to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi, and within the context of existing Indo-Russian strategic partnership, there is tremendous potential for a qualitative higher level of relationship reflecting mutual trust and confidence. Thus, taking into consideration the deep and wide scope of issues that impact prospects and substance of bilateral relations, this article presents a brief SWOT analysis to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of India- Russia relations.


Developing relations with emerging power poles is currently one of the key elements of Russian foreign policy. India is certainly one of these centres of influence. In that respect, Russia-India relations represent a strategic partnership with genuine substance and saturated prospects.

The strategic cooperation between Russia and India is a natural phenomenon. Geopolitical considerations dictate the need to strengthen mutual relations. The two countries’ national interests either coincide or at least do not contradict each other. There is an explicit parallel between foreign policy developments in which India is involved in South Asia, and the Russian role in post-Soviet realities of the CIS.

Currently, significant emphasis is given to the linkages based on military ties. This includes the sale of weapons (about 75% of New Delhi’s military imports currently come from Moscow), collaboration in terms of training and the development of weapons, and regular exercises.

Both sides also share a similar vision of the world, wanting greater equality between major powers, especially for developing countries. Renewed efforts in economic and political cooperation within the RIC group (Russia, India, China), and more widely within BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have good prospects. Highly-efficient interaction is evident in areas involving Russian fundamental science and resources; India’s engineering theory and Chinese production that boasts high-quality, low-cost labour.

The flow of Russian tourists to India is increasing by the year, representing strong potential in cultural and people-to-people ties.


Although cooperation between the governments at the highest level is successful, collaboration between business structures and civil societies of the two countries is yet to be developed. Young people in India are insufficiently informed about Russia and the presence of Russian mass media in India has considerably weakened. The existing visa regime also creates barriers to fast and smooth communication between the two countries. However, on May 23, President Putin announced that Russia and India will continue to implement joint projectsin the nuclear industry, and facilitate the visa regime for skilled workers.

In some aspects, the Russian side tends to display a ‘mentoring’ attitude to India as a ‘student nation’ though it does express respect and acknowledgement of the country’s experience and knowledge in innovation. This may be considered as a weakness of the existing partnership. Difficulties in India’s internal political environment may impact cooperation in the highly promising industrial sector of nuclear power. The logic behind India’s position on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security suggests that cooperation in this area between the two countries has no meaningful political prospects. India is de facto a nuclear state, regardless of its recognition as such by the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Delhi has emphasised nuclear disarmament over nuclear non-proliferation. India has always viewed the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a threat to regional and global security, and as a consequence has viewed nuclear proliferation as illegitimate (hence non-proliferation, i.e. maintaining a privileged status of ‘nuclear club’ members).


Similarities between the two countries’ objectives in the foreign policy domain represent a fertile soil for development of a mutually beneficial partnership. Russia and India should seek further integration in the global economy, enhanced competitiveness and a degree of protectionism with regard to their own production. The proximity of the two countries’ approaches to the fundamental problems of global development is especially evident. For instance, India’s experience in staff recruiting and training, in-house management systems and approach to business may prove very useful for Russia.

Likewise, the successful increase of the tonnage and upgrading of India’s commercial and naval fleets would bring with it significant opportunities for Russia.1 The strategic importance of India and states forming the ‘offshore extension’ of South Asia will grow considerably by 2020, and strengthening ties with them will be a good fit with programmes covering protection of Russia’s national interests at these distant boundaries.

Another opportunity is represented by Russian companies which may help build subways and airports in a number of cities, develop port and river facilities and upgrade railways. Bilateral cooperation in civil aviation may involve the design of a new passenger aircraft. Joint efforts by private and public companies in cutting edge areas of science and technology will deliver substantial results, which will only be obtained through fierce competition for the right ones to enter the Indian market.

The growing competition of weapons and military equipment in the Indian market should motivate the Russian defence sector. Russia will supply the Indian Navy with warships and submarines, including nuclear ones.


Russia’s main opportunities in the region are linked to its strategic relations with India, trade and economic cooperation with other countries in the region, while the risks stem from the possible destabilisation in the North-Western region of South Asia, with the ever present threat that this could spread to the Central Asian Republics.

The second group of risks comes from worsening relations between India and Pakistan that, in the worst case scenario, could escalate to a military conflict involving the use of nuclear arms. There is yet another area of risk – humanitarian and environmental issues. Piracy in the Indian Ocean’s northern waters should be taken into account when calculating risks in the area, alongside natural disasters.

Bilateral cooperation in what has traditionally been the most successful area of military technology may seem very promising, but it is not without its challenges. India’s requirements as regards the quality and reliability of military equipment supplied by Russia may become more stringent.

Despite the ‘privileged political partnership’ status between Russia and India, trade and economic ties are still the weakest link in bilateral relations. One impediment is the limited awareness of Russian foreign economic players of qualitative shifts in India’s economy, and a relatively low level of mutual trade operations.

Looking Ahead

Enhancing instruments of public diplomacy and providing expert support to decision makers is essential for the successful development of the Russian-Indian relations. India is interested not in redistributing global influence to the new ‘poles’, but in a truly polycentric world order where India could be one of the many active players. Thus, Russia

should reaffirm its position regarding support for India receiving the status of UN Security Council permanent member and call for comprehensive assistance to Delhi in its desire to become an APEC member.

It would be equally important for Russia to continue efforts aimed at expanding gas supply systems in India. Unblocking transport routes linking Russia and India could become another powerful incentive for the growth of Russia-India trade and economic ties. Preferential trade agreements seem quite a realistic prospect and could even be signed in the near future, facilitating an increase in Indian exports. Notwithstanding the fact that opportunities and risks broadly balance each other out, they provide great potential for development of strong, beneficial and long-lasting relations.

During a meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza on July 15, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to further deepen and broad-base the strategic partnership in the areas of defence, nuclear energy, space, energy, trade and investment, people-to-people contacts and addressing regional and global challenges. The Annual Summit in Delhi in December 2014 is an opportunity to outline a bold vision and roadmap for their relationship in the years ahead. 

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Alexandra A Arkhangelskaya

Alexandra A Arkhangelskaya is a researcher at the Centre for Southern African Studies, Institute for African Studies in Moscow and the CEO of BRICS Consulting.

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    1 The Indian Ocean offers priority transportation routes connecting the rich in oil Middle East (and Africa) with China, Japan and the Asia Pacific region. Today, these routes account for 50 percent of global container traffic and over 70 percent of the global shipment of oil products.

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