India and the USSR had a strategic, military and economic partnership which was inherited by Russia after the break up of the Soviet Union.
India was always the junior partner of the Soviet Union during the cold war and depended heavily on it for weapons, aid, industrial set up and diplomatic support in various multi nation organization including the UN where it was under Soviet veto protection.
After the break up of the Soviet Union, Russia and India continued to share close relationship as in the soviet era. But Russia was beset by its own problems and a sharply declining economy. During the same period India starter economic reforms which put India on a fast track to growth. The period saw India opening up to the west as developing ties with the US which soon started taking shape of a strategic nature starting with the visit of US President Bill Clinton to India.
Under George Bush, Indo-US ties reached newer heights culminating in the nuclear deal. India started to buy some high tech weapons platform from the US breaking the strangle hold of Russia in the field and expanding India’s options.
India started developing problems with Russian supplies of weaponry with delays, sub standard spares and cost hikes. Russia lost out on the MRCA tender even though it was probably the cheapest fighter. Consequently Russia cancelled many of the joint exercises with India while India has in the last few years seen a huge increase in number of joint exercises with the US and having an understanding on patrolling seas lanes in IOR.
There is a feeling of Russia being neglected by India as it found new friends in the west. Unfortunately Russia and India don’t share any common values or interests in the next theatre of global power play which is Asia. The US has already made its move to contain China and is wooing India to come on board and open to supply the latest military ware it has.
Russia’s only relevance today in the world is based on its huge nuclear arsenal, it’s oil and gas and it’s seat in the UNSC. It’s economy is in a bad shape and it’s population has been on a decline.
Yet, it is imperative for India to maintain strategic relations with the Russians and it’s India which will have to do the running especially with Russia and Pakistan trying to find an opening in bilateral relations. Russia knows only one language these days and that is of hard cash. India will have to set aside a decent amount of money for weapons purchase from Russia. This will keep the Russians from supplying any weapons to Pakistan which has to be prevented at all costs.
India will have to look to develop joint projects that helps us utilize Russian scientific knowledge along with ours along with our increasing ability to invest money. This will help Russia in keeping its talent pool employed and help India learn from them and develop capabilities for the future. India has already done that with Brahmos and is doing so with the next gen fighter aircrafts. India could look to enhance this in the field of industries to develop machinery and other equipments which benefit in industrial machines, farm machineries and host of other areas that India lags in and can use Russian expertise and look to market it it across the world using manufacturing base in India using cheaper Indian labor.
Russian energy resources remain an attractive prospect and India should look to look for investment opportunities.
Space is area where India and Soviet Union and then Russia have cooperated in. This should continue and newer areas of cooperation should be sought an implemented. India already has one such in the area of satellite navigation.
India’s trade with Russia is minuscule despite years of being friends. Newer ways to enhance trade has to be found from the $10 billion odd annual figure.
India will have to work out a way to balance its strategic closeness to US with one with Russia which really matters at the end of it all.
India must find ways to cooperate with Russia in any emerging security scenario in Asia. Afghanistan is one such region. Central Asia is another were Russia has considerable influence and with its natural resources forms an attractive area of cooperation.
The other is Iran. Russia has been opposed to any kind of sanctions on Iran and this suits India as well. India and Russia can look to cooperate to find a resolution to the impasse so that Iran’s strategic location both as a gateway to middle east and into central Asia can be utilized not to mention its vast oil and gas reserves. India and Russia can look to create transportation corridors in these regions, Central Asia and Iran for trade and energy supplies and also be the security guarantor for the region.
As India grows economically and militarily and enhances its network of allies and especially strong ties with the US, it has to take Russia along for both historic and strategic reasons.