India and Russia are likely to sign as many as 18 agreements when PM Narendra Modi hosts President Vladimir Putin in Goa on Saturday for the ‘17th India-Russia Annual Summit’ meet on the side-lines of the Brics summit. Defence and nuclear cooperation will again be among the highlights of the engagement.[i]
India and Russia have historically shared a multi-dimensional and strong partnership. The ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ is built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, counter terrorism cooperation and space. However, ‘Defence Cooperation’ has been the most enduring part and the pillar of this strategic partnership with approximately 60 to 70 percent of India’s defence imports, still sourced from Russia.
The ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ is also qualified by the ‘Annual Summit’ between the Heads of Government which has been unbroken for the last 16 years. The 16th Annual Summit was held at Moscow on 24 Dec 2016 between PM Modi and President Putin. A total of 16 agreements were then signed in multifarious disciplines; though only one on defence cooperation. Nevertheless, the same needs to be underscored as this involved joint manufacture of the much needed 200 (quantity) Kamov 226 Light Helicopters under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
The traditional ‘Defence Cooperation’ has the potential of reenergising the strategic bilateral partnership between the two countries. India’s necessity of meeting its defence hardware requirements through indigenisation and ‘Make in India’ concept with Russia’s imperative of reviving its ‘Military Industrial Complex’ have the potential of seamless synergy.
India and Russia share similar views on most matters of international concern. At a time when there exist fundamental differences between Russia and the West and apprehensions about China’s growing assertiveness intensify; an emerging India probably remains one of Russia’s most reliable partners on the global stage. For India, Russia is a long time tested friend which is a key pillar of its foreign policy.
However, Post-Cold War, despite the numerous issues of convergences between India and Russia, the foreign policies of both the countries have vacillated to explore new avenues of partnerships with other international players. Though in the National Interest, India has to diversify its engagements; an emerging India with regional and global aspirations can ill afford to lose its old time tested strategic partner in the prevailing geopolitical environment.
India’s new policy to diversify its sources of defence procurement and its growing closeness with the US and the West are a cause of concern for Russia. While India feels that Russia’s new found interest in Pakistan and China adversely impacts the balance of power with strategic ramifications. India has conveyed its concerns on the recently concluded joint military exercise between Russia and Pakistan.[ii]
While India moves ahead and draws upon certain essential engagements as per its security calculus; redrawing of priorities and requirements to rejuvenate its relations with Russia have to be undertaken in the overall global and regional context. While an overall broad basing of the bilateral relations is an imperative, maintaining the attractiveness of the typical erstwhile defence cooperation; albeit as part of the larger ‘Military Diplomacy’ initiatives is a challenge. ‘Military Diplomacy’ initiatives focussing on enhanced military to military engagements/interactions and reenergised defence cooperation can rejuvenate the overall bilateral relations; a geopolitical imperative for maintenance of global and regional ‘Balance of Power’ and ‘Bridging of Gaps’