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India & Russia – Does the ‘special relationship’ still exist?

Indian Air Force MiG-25, IAF Museum, New Delhi

Are India and Russia still as thick as back in the good ‘ol days of the Cold War, or has the bonhomie petered off? Eurasia Review carries my article on Indo-Russian relations.

India and Russia attempt to put ties on an even keel
Vladimir Putin is on his way to New Delhi. But India-Russian ties don’t seem to be as strong as they once were.  A look at where the erstwhile allies stand.

For nearly half a century, there was one world capital that had immense influence in New Delhi: Moscow was where India’s government sought political and military support even as it tried to maintain a stance of non-alignment. This relationship went beyond politics, (perhaps for the simple reason of Moscow being far enough for India not to worry about becoming a vassal state) and there was ample evidence (such as India being the first export customer of the MiG-29) that both nations looked at each other through a prism of complete trust.

Even now, despite big-ticket acquisitions from the US, Israel, and France, most of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin, and Moscow continues to be, at least in public, a trusted ally of New Delhi. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union has had a seemingly deleterious effect on this relationship. With the inheritor of the Soviet empire, Russia, no longer as pre-eminent on the world stage, and India’s leadership acknowledging the need for closer links with the West, Indo-Russian ties seem to be suffering from a lack of direction.

Difficult times
The genesis of this gradual drift can be traced back to the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Russia no longer an undisputed world power, Moscow was forced to look West. The Boris Yeltsin years saw a realignment of Russia’s links with its erstwhile enemies, and the priorities of economic regeneration and reintegration with the world left little space for India, which itself was going through an economic transformation.

While the Yeltsin years are considered to be a nadir in Indo-Russian relations, if for the simple reason that India no longer enjoyed the spotlight, military ties continued to be on a sound footing. Weapons sales continued and India remained a trusted customer. Vladimir Putin’s nationalist platform then brought back the bonhomie and India again found itself more than an armaments customer.

However, the past few years have once again seen Indo-Russian ties go through a rough path. But just how deep is this rift?

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