External affairs minister Dr. S Jaishankar’s three-day Russia visit highlights the importance India gives to its old ally even as it continues to strengthen ties with the US and Japan.
India’s external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar’s three-day tour of Russia last week would have been perceived as routine if not for the changing dynamics of the world order in the post pandemic era.
For India, the need to strengthen its defences against China has seen it veer towards the US led Quad alliance but with increased parleys with Russia, India has sought to strike a balance. After all, Russia is one of the oldest and strongest allies for independent India.
The tour happened within three months of Russian external affairs minister Sergei Lavrov’s own trip to India in April this year. While no major deals or agreements were signed, India and Russia were anyway working closely during the pandemic--the start of manufacture of Sputnik vaccines is an example, and the visit was aimed more at reiterating the importance both nations accord each other.
"There is no doubt the relations between India and Russia have been among the steadiest of the major relationships in the world after the Second World War. But at the end of the day, the logic of geopolitics was so compelling that we barely remember these, even as minor aberrations. The undeniable reality of the exceptional resilience of our ties is surely a phenomenon that is worth analysing," Jaishankar said.
India and Russia have shared a mutually beneficial relationship based on trust and friendship honed over 70 years now. In the period just after independence, as India sought to empower its economy in its quest for self-sufficiency, Russia pitched in with technology and investments in heavy machine building, mining, energy production and steel plants. Yet, the relationship is not merely transactional in nature. It was unaffected by India’s non-aligned stance during the cold war era. Later when India opened its economy and drew closer to the US, it was not at the cost of Russia. This neat balancing act is a seminal aspect of Indo-Russian ties.
“I think what makes our working together so natural and comfortable is our belief in a multipolar global order,” Jaishankar added. “We consider that to be a reflection of a very natural and inevitable process of evolution of inter-state relations in the 21st century. "The paradox is though, that precisely that the relation is so steady, this relationship is sometimes taken for granted. The case for its constant nurturing is as powerful, if not more, than with the more volatile ones."
There is much scope to deepen the relationship especially on the economic front. Though Russia continues to be a big arms supplier to India, overall bilateral trade hasn’t lived upto its potential. In 2014, India was 18th in the list of Russia’s top exporters while it was 23rd in the list of India’s importers. Bilateral trade was under $ 10 billion then missing an earlier target of achieving $ 20 billion by 2015. In fiscal 2021, trade was at a little over $ 8 billion.
In recent times, the two nations are collaborating intensely in space, nuclear, energy and defence sectors. As per the agreement on nuclear power between the two countries, as many as 12 nuclear power plants are to be built by 2035. Only last month, work on the fifth unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear power plant was started.
At a diplomatic level the two sides have agreed to 2+2 dialogue of foreign and defence ministers which should happen later this year. Russia is only the fourth country besides Quad members--US, Japan and Australia, that India has such an arrangement with. Jaishankar also discussed the developments in Afghanistan with his counterpart Lavrov. The withdrawal of US troops from the country after nearly two decades of occupation has seen the resurgence of Taliban, which is a cause of much concern for India. What is worse, the new Taliban regime has already reached out to China for cooperation and investments.
"Afghanistan occupied a lot of our attention because it has a direct implication on regional security. We believe that the immediate need of the day is really a reduction in violence and if you have to see within Afghanistan and around Afghanistan," Jaishankar said after the meeting. "It is important for India and Russia to work together to ensure that much of the progress we have seen in economic, democratic and social terms are maintained. We are both committed to an independent, sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan."
While the dynamics of the region maybe fluid, Indo-Russian ties remain as rock solid as ever. It is one of the few certainties in the tricky expanse of global diplomacy.