A complex friendship rooted in history
India-Russia ties have a deep-rooted history but the political realities of the 21st century may require a fresh approach to old ties. India's relationship with Russia is a complex one, saddled with history and more recently geography. Russia has been an old and once-trusted supplier of defence equipment and weapons systems and has recently signed a slew of deals for co-production of military helicopters and Indian purchase of missiles and frigates. Separately, the Russian energy giant Rosneft led a consortium that bought Essar Oil, an Indian petroleum and refining conglomerate. If one adds cooperation in areas as far apart as pharmaceuticals and nuclear energy, the India-Russia relationship seems deep. Yet, is it wide - or even deep enough The latest arms deals have come against the run of play and the keenness in India to move away from Russian weapons systems. India is determined to diversify its supplier sources because Russian defence factories and technologists are now open to the Chinese and through them the Pakistanis. For instance, the engine of the MiG 29, which the Indian Air Force uses, also figures in the Chinese-Pakistani JF 17. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has leveraged a growing relationship with China and Pakistan to remind India that Moscow is not without options, as New Delhi itself seeks friends in Washington, DC, and European capitals. Yet, the fact is this is a short-termist game because the broader sweep of civil society and private-sector business relations between Russia and India no longer exist. Indian business steers clear of Russia and sees it as a tough place to invest in. Indian students prefer the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Singapore - anywhere but Russia. Unlike the West, India has not taken on Russia on the Crimean issue and on its expansionism into Ukraine. The reason for this is two-fold. First, these geographies are too distant and India isn't really involved. On the other hand, when there was talk of Russian troops exercising in Pakistan (including in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), India was concerned, did protest and reached out to Russia. Second, Asian powers like India (or China for that matter) are that much more realist than many in the West and predicted - even if they didn't support - Putin's muscular near-neighbourhood policy and his desire to take Russia into the realm of “Big Politics” by beginning bombing operations in Syria and so on. The West was surprised, given Russia's economy and demography is going south, but Indian strategists anticipated it. That doesn't mean, however, that Russia has a rosy future. Its long-term challenges still remain. Given the fall in oil and gas prices, it faces economic uncertainty and its young people are happy to abandon it. Yet, it retains enough capacity and military prowess to be a factor in the immediate future. India is alive to that, even as it accepts Russia is gradually walking into the Chinese sphere of influence, and that Russian tourists are no longer coming to Goa in the large numbers they used to at the height to the energy boom a decade ago.