India-Russia Relations: History, Cooperation & Challenges

By Hemant Kumar|Updated : May 4th, 2020

India-Russia Relations is an important topic of UPSC GS 3 and UPSC has also asked previously on this topic. The Indo-Russian relationship is based on its deep Historical, Cultural, Mutual trust, and mutually beneficial cooperation. The Strategic Partnership between India and Russia has withstood the test of time. As Prime Minister Modi on the occasion of BRICS Summit, Fortaleza (Brazil) said: “Every Child in India knows who has been India’s best friend”. Russia has helped India in a tough time without expecting anything in return. Russia has been a pillar of India’s Development and Security.

India- Russia Relations: Historical Background; Cooperation; Areas of Concern; Russia's Relevance to India; Way Forward

Historical Background

India’s diplomatic relations with Russia began before India achieved independence. In fact, Russia was one of the first countries to recognized Indian independence in 1947 itself to strengthen its image as anti-imperialist. By the mid-1950s, India and Soviet Union (Formerly Known ) appeared all poised to establish closer relationships and help India in attaining economic self-sufficiency through investment in heavy industries. The Soviet Union invested in various new enterprises in the areas of energy production, mining, steel plants, and heavy machine building. The two countries in 1962 agreed to begin a program of military-technical cooperation. In 1971, a historic moment in relations between both countries was the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971.

From the 1990s, relations between both countries severely changed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as India- Russia entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1993 and bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994. When Putin became President, the relationship between both countries transformed into Strategic Partnership. The Strategic Partnership institutionalized annual meetings and in 2010 elevated the relationship to the status of a Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.

India-Russia Cooperation:

India – Russia's diplomatic relationship is now 70 years old. Cooperation between both countries is wide-ranging:

Political Relations: 

  • A major political initiative between India and Russia started since the collapse of the Soviet Union by signing the Strategic Partnership in 2000.
  • India – Russia collaborates on shared national interests at various multilateral organizations such as the UN, BRICS, G20, and SCO.
  • Russia has been vocal about its support to India’s seat at the United Nations Security Council.
  • Russia has backed India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and is sensitive towards India's position on Jammu and Kashmir vis-a-vis Pakistan.
  • Russia has shown interest in joining SAARC with observer status.
  • The Indo- Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC) is the most comprehensive governmental mechanism that conducts affairs at the governmental level. 

Economic Relations:

  • Bilateral trade relations between both countries today stands at approximately $8.2 billion during 2018-19 and both counties have set targets of $30 billion by 2025.
  • Trade between both countries concentrated on various diversified segments such as machinery, aerospace, Commercial shipping, chemicals, petroleum products, precious metals, and mineral products.
  • India-Russia is making efforts towards achieving the target of mutual investment of $15 billion each way by the year 2025. Both countries set up $1 billion in funds to promote mutual investment in infrastructure and technology projects.
  • Russia’s cooperation with India on its “Make in India” and in the development of smart cities.
  • Both countries are significantly increasing cooperation between regions of Russia and the States of India as of now there are nine sister State and sister city arrangements.
  • The North-South Transport Corridor for better connectivity and trade relations for India, Russia and other neighboring countries.
  • Both countries developed an economic strategy that involves using a number of economic components such as FTA and EEU (Eurasian Economic Union) for the promotion and protection of investment.

Defense Partnerships:

  • Russia is India’s principal defense partner. The defense aspect of the relationship was the major pillars of the India-Russia relationship and has stood the test of time. With Russia’s help, India achieved capacity building in defense areas through the development and acquisition of weapons.
  • India is the largest buyer of Russia’s military equipment. As of now, India has purchased various military hardware from Russia such as the S-400 Triumph Missile system, Kamov 226 helicopters to be jointly manufactured under the Make in India initiative, INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier program, etc.
  • India and Russia have several major joint military programs such as BrahMos cruise missile, Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft.
  • INDRA AND AVI-INDRA are joint military exercises conducted by India and Russia.

Energy Security:

  • India-Russia energy security partnership theoretically appears to be most attractive but because of geographical reasons, there is limited feasibility. Although India Companies does explore the potential energy partnership. For Ex: Companies are trying to get access to the Sakhalin III in the Siberia gas field.
  • However, there are several areas for exploration like Russia has the world’s largest natural gas, and other areas like oil and coal reserve.
  • Nuclear energy is the most strategic area. Post Paris Agreement on climate changes India considers nuclear energy as a viable and important option to meet its energy requirement and climate change obligations.
  • Russia has built nuclear reactors (Kudankulam reactors in Tamil Nadu) and is expected to build 12 new reactors.
  • India-Russia is jointly working on establishing Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh. India now gives importance to local manufacturing equipment and components for upcoming Russian designed nuclear projects.
  • Recently, MoU has been signed on cooperation on LNG supplies to India, and a maritime route from Chennai to Vladivostok which will be used for energy trade and agreed for cooperation on hydrocarbon exploration and LNG in the Arctic as well as far east.

Science and Technology:

  • India-Russia has various ongoing cooperation activities in the areas of education, space technology, science and technology, and research.
  • India-Russia has set up a network of universities and cooperation is going on a different aspect of space technology.
  • Russia has helped India is launching its first two satellites, Aryabhata and Bhaskar, and has also helped in developing the cryogenic engine for heavy rockets. 
  • Both countries are cooperating on Arctic areas which has a lot of energy potential and India has pledged $1 billion lines of credit in developing Russia’s far east region.
  • India’s ambitious mission Gaganyaan, Astronauts will be trained by Russia. Russian State Space Corporation ‘Roscosmos’ and the ISRO will cooperate on the human spaceflight programs and satellite navigation programs.


  • India-Russia has strong cultural relation which is contributing to a strong relationship between both countries. Cultural relations have started from the medieval time when Afanasy Nikitin visited India during the Mughal Period.
  • Russia was the first country where Indology started (the study of India) and many thinkers like Leo Tolstoy had profound influence and contribution to Indian literature.
  • Communist Revolution in India has inspired many leaders. Lenin was a supporter of the Indian Freedom Struggle.
  • Indian movies and Yoga have a great influence and are very popular among Russian people.
  • Several programs like “Namaste Russia” where people to people connect, educational brilliance of both countries have good cultural links.

Issues of Terrorism:

India-Russia strongly condemned terrorism in all its formats. Both countries have common convergence in countering terrorism. Both countries stressed the need for a global effort in dealing with terrorist threats. India-Russia has a similar stand on security situations in Afghanistan and both working together to eliminate terrorist groups from Afghanistan. 

Areas of Concern between India-Russia Relation:

  • Defense: Russia once had a monopoly in defense export to India. But now India is diversifying its defense imports defense relation with the USA, Israel, etc. 
  • India-US bilateral defense trade reaches $18 billion. Russia’s arms export to India fell 42% between 2014-18 and 2009-13. However, Russia is still the largest exporter of defence equipment to India.
  • Quality of Russian arms and ammunition are not upto mark and technology transfer in defense maintenance is always a hurdle in cracking defense deal.
  • India’s withdrawal from 5th generation fighter aircraft over delays and differences over cost. India’s grievance against Russia is cost, delays in delivery, poor servicing, and spare parts.  
  • India’s growing relation to the USA: Growing military to military exercises is the strongest part of the India-US defense partnership. Increasing participation in regional blocks such as Quadrilateral grouping led by the USA is a major cause of the shift in Moscow's foreign policy. 
  • Geo-Political concern: Russia has changed its foreign policy conditions due to changing global order as the western policies are trying to isolate Russia.
  • Recently Russia has ended its self-imposed moratorium on selling offensive weapons to China. Russia has sold Sukhoi-35 and armored class submarine. Russia-China has conducted various mock drill exercises. Russia has endorsed China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative and urged India to overcome the differences over the initiative.
  • Russia’s closeness with Pakistan raised concerns in India. Russia and Pakistan are conducting joint military exercises since 2016. Recently Russia has provided MI-35 Hind attack helicopters to Pakistan.
  • Russia had proposed a Russia-India-China forum but India is hesitant because of the unresolved issues with China.
  • Russia has started negotiations with Taliban groups based in Afghanistan but India has not been directly involved in such talks.

Russia's Relevance for India:

There is no hesitation that a renewed standoff between the West and Russia has ramifications. These events have often put India in an awkward diplomatic situation. India has to rebuild on its strength and revitalize its earlier agreements. 

Energy diplomacy can replace the waning defense business and bring rationality to Indo-Russia relations. India is yet too to explore Russia’s vast technological potential. Russia could refurbish India’s strategic assets and it has a strong scientific and technological base that can be taken advantage of by India.

Russia is still politically, diplomatically, and militarily critical for India and their veto power in the UNSC acts as a useful counterweight against global hegemony. India also cannot ignore the geostrategic calculations, where the US can never replace Russia politically and operationally in case of a national crisis. Russia’s diplomatic support to India in the context of the issue of Kashmir cannot be lost sight of especially when the traditionally strong US-Pakistan relationship and the growing Russia-China-Pakistan axis still persist.

Way Forward: 

  • Promoting Joint projects in third countries in areas of convergence. For Ex: Rooppur Nuclear Project in Bangladesh.
  • Increasing cooperation with Eurasian Countries by increasing speed for completion of proposed projects like INSTC.
  • Utilizing India's Make in India program for greater economic cooperation with Russia and can also utilize its vast population dividend to provide a workforce to Russia.
  • Further cooperation in multinational groupings like BRICS, SCO,  G20, East Asia Summit, etc.


India- Russia has found several new avenues of cooperation such as knowledge-based economies in the field of science and technology to deep-sea exploration, robotics, innovation and artificial intelligence, skill development, focus on infrastructure, shipbuilding, and greater connectivity. Both nations require to balance their National interests with that of their bilateral relations. Still, they will continue to remain a role model for mutually beneficial and harmonious partnership and would like to remain the same.

For More Such notes on Important Topics Click Here

More from Us:

Monthly Current Affairs

UPSC Study Material

Daily Practice Quizzes, Attempt Here


write a comment

Follow us for latest updates