G20 India 2023 As Vladimir Putin resides in Moscow, India-Russia relations seem to be on a decline while New Delhi’s ties with the West have grown stronger.
In February 2022, as Russian tanks entered Ukraine, it marked the beginning of Europe’s largest conflict since World War II, putting pressure on countries around the world to choose sides between Western-backed Kyiv and Moscow.
For more than 18 months since then, New Delhi has carefully maintained a delicate balance between its old friend Russia and direct criticism, as leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) nations prepare to gather in the Indian capital for their annual summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be compelled to show his hand.
India and Russia share a history as partners during the Cold War era. After mediating peace between India and Pakistan to end the 1965 war, the Soviet Union deployed cruisers and destroyers to protect New Delhi during the 1971 war between South Asian neighbors, as the United States sent an aircraft carrier battle group to the Bay of Bengal.
Historically, India has depended on Russia not only for its defense arsenal but also for political cover in the United Nations Security Council. In return, India was the only South Asian nation to support Russia during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
However, after more than four decades, India, with its growing economy, no longer openly aligns with Russia against Western sanctions, particularly concerning the conflict in Ukraine. As Russian oil prices rise, making it less attractive for India to buy, Putin’s absence from the G20 Summit, while all Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, participate, raises questions.
So, is India gradually distancing itself from Russia? And what could this mean for the global order?
In short, India is unlikely to formally distance itself from Russia anytime soon. However, some experts warn that their friendship has become a liability for New Delhi’s geostrategic ambitions, which include involvement in peace negotiations for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The trajectory of India-Russia relations is clear: a continuous decline while the Modi government strengthens its ties with the West.
The ‘Legacy Relationship’
The modern friendship between India and Russia dates back to the Cold War and has continued since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. If the Modi government has refrained from joining Western sanctions against the Kremlin over the conflict in Ukraine, there’s history behind that decision: Russia opposed the sanctions imposed on India by the US, Japan, and a few other countries after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.
Nearly 70% of India’s fighter aircraft, 44% of its warships and submarines, and over 90% of its armored vehicles for the army are of Russian origin. Both nations collaborated to develop the supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, which is now being exported to the Philippines. In 2012, India signed a deal with Russia for a nuclear-powered submarine.
Russia has also been a significant partner in India’s nuclear energy program, assisting New Delhi in building the country’s largest nuclear energy facility in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, as part of India’s civilian nuclear energy initiative. The expansion of this nuclear complex is currently underway.
While India’s relations with the West have dramatically strengthened over the past three decades, Russia’s global ties have also deepened dramatically.