India and Russia have enjoyed a long, largely stable and mutually beneficial relationship. Though the initial factor that brought them closer was the politics behind the cold war, the relations did not confine themselves to reactionary and compulsive interactions. Rather, in many ways, the interests of the two countries were mutually overlapping. However, in the 21st century of globalised world, both the Rising India and the Resurgent Russia have been forced to come to terms to newer realities.
Firstly, globalization has created interdependence amongst a much larger number of countries than ever before. Hence, it has also led countries to search for the best products on display and avail them (in the context of defense purchases by India). In an increasingly integrated world, just like family relations in a globalised home, individual interests and choices are loosening the threads of erstwhile sources of dependence and support.
Secondly, trade and economic relations have become the binding force amongst various countries but India and Russia have so far failed to kick off their economic and trade ties. China, on the other hand, has quite effectively used trade relations to normalize its relations with various countries and it’s worth noting that China has become the largest trading partner of both Russia and India. The economic exchanges between India and Russia are still concentrated on sectors of defense, space, oil & gas and nuclear energy which are largely organized held at government to government level. Though the two countries have begun to wake up to this challenge of exploiting the huge potential of economic cooperation, any substantial progress still eludes them. The trade target of $10bn could only be achieved by signing deals for new nuclear reactors and joint defense production programs.
Thirdly, the economic rise of China (and Asia as a whole) has begun to alter the western tilt of the global balance of power. For India, China may pose stiff competition in lucrative oil & gas purchases from Russia. It is also one of the major buyers of defense equipment from Russia. For Russia (and increasingly for India too), rise of China means a relative decline in power and power demonstration abilities at the international level. Russia has not been able to diversify its economy and still relies heavily on energy exports while India is catching up fast to prevent China’s singular dominance of the region. Though the three countries are presently engaged in institutionalizing their relations through RIC, BRICS, etc. it is unlikely that such alliances would last long considering the individual aspirations of the three countries.Fourthly, US has always remained a factor in India and Russia relations. Russia remains skeptical about India’s proximity with US. Russia has been watching growing Indo-US relations reflected in defense, technological and civilian nuclear energy fields. The recent rejection of the US bid for MMRCA deal of India has highlighted that India would like to remain autonomous in deciding upon its national interests even when it may sometimes align with US for inherent benefits. All these factors will impact India and Russia relations in future. However, the most likely course in short to medium term appears to be that of continued engagement between India and Russia, though not of that level as it was before. Pragmatism will guide the positions that the two countries assume with respect to each other with no drastic shift expected in policy matters.