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Dobro Pozhalovat Vladimir!

On 6 December 2021 India welcomed a steadfast friend, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin

The geopolitical situation in our region is churning and changing so quickly that one has hardly has time to catch one’s breath

The visit is a resounding reaffirmation of a warm, time-tested friendship, of a privileged and strategic partnership

 28 MoUs, agreements to enhance trade and investment, enhanced defense cooperation, purchase of fertilizers, coking coal, steel etc. are the visible outcomes

 Regrettably, direct information flows between the two countries are limited, we learn about each other through foreign prisms

 What is the image of Russia among the Indian public?

 A friend, a great power, a maker of great weapons and even greater vodka, and an enemy of the USA

 Russians somewhat patronizingly underestimate India and think of it as a third world country, poor, self-satisfied, makes great films, not too much ambition, fights with Pakistan

 China and the West loom large on the Russian radar, so India’s visibility gets correspondingly reduced

 India has to look carefully at USA and China, and yet keep Russia in focus

 In diplomacy, messaging is important, actions convey their own meaning

 The India-Russia partnership is best summed up by stressing that we may never be against each other, but it does not mean that we are always with each other

 Our decisions are autonomous, no other country is allowed to influence them

 Neither side takes the other for granted

 If Uncle or PingPong get upset, so be it

 India is Putin’s first bilateral visit (not China) since the virus struck (apart from a Geneva meeting in June 2021 with Joe Biden)

Russia is reeling under the Chinese virus, and there is growing tension on the Ukrainian border, yet he has come

(I would not be surprised if PingPong rushes to Pakistan to say: “Don’t cry baby, grandpa is here”)

It has not been easy for Russians to accept that from being joint Numero Uno, they are now relegated to third place, ceding second position to a country that till two decades ago they considered backward

 I have not met a Russian who likes the Chinese or who does not like India

Russia gains by sending a message to the rest of the world that China is not the only card up Russia’s sleeve

India sends an unmistakable message that while we value our growing relationship with the liberal democracies of the west, we do not abandon old friends

America might consider Russia an adversary, we do not

Our adversary is someone else

Russia agreed to sell arms to India shortly after the India-China border clash in mid-2020, even though China protested

 India has recently received the S-400 air defense system, the best in the world at present, despite US objections, and it might just get the latest S-500

India and Russia are also building four state-of-the-art frigates for the Indian navy

 One third of Russia’s weapons sales are to India

 In the early years of our independence, we were junior friends of the USSR in the bilateral context

 In 2021, India and Russia deal with each other as equal partners, with trust, confidence, and assurance

 Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin are popular in their own countries and share a warm camaraderie

 In Russian eyes, India is no longer a “third world” perennially underdeveloped nation

In the 2020s, India’s growing economic and military strength, its hugely successful diplomacy, and its amazing intellectual prowess is evident

 As the great Chanakya had said 2,400 years ago, power respects power

 India is the IT and pharma capital of the world

 Russia’s military technology, civil nuclear expertise, space knowhow is universally acknowledged

 Since the early 1950s, we have a rupee-ruble trade agreement that covers about a third of bilateral trade to avoid the risk of sanctions on dollar-denominated transactions

Beginning 2001, Indian investment in Russia’s energy sector is USD 20 bn

 As chief guest at the September 2019 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered a USD 1 bn soft loan to Russia for the development of its Far East, thus becoming a strategic partner in Russia’s Far East

A Chennai-Vladivostok marine connectivity link was announced – few know that it is already a work in progress

Fifty years ago, India and the then USSR were partners in the liberation of Bangladesh

In the decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its economy ravaged by oligarchs and their western patrons, Russia looked firmly westwards, even thinking that it might be let into the European Union and possibly NATO

 It was rebuffed and humiliated

As Russia struggled to reinvent itself as a capitalist democracy, China studied the experience of Soviet reforms (Deng Xiaoping derided it as a polar bear) in order to steer clear of the “tracks of the overturned cart”

The Soviet collapse did not end happily

Although many commentators marveled at its peaceful dissolution, the meltdown brought great uncertainty, ethnic strife, economic deprivation, poverty, and crime for many of the successor states, and in particular for Russia that had to rebuild itself upon the ruins of the defunct socialist project

The proud Russians, considerably weakened after the dissolution of the USSR, saw their noses being ground into the dust

By the turn of the millennium, Russia was destitute, feeling betrayed and isolated

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought NATO dangerously close to Russia’s borders, as did the incorporation of several former Communist states

In 2000, Vladimir Putin wrote that Russia always felt itself to be a Eurasian country. The time had therefore come for a pivot to Asia

 In his 2005 address to the nation, Vladimir Putin said that the demise of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”

Russia turned its gaze to the East in the early 2000s, and saw China, flush with funds and flexing its till then puny muscles, yearning to join the mega league by upgrading its weaponry

Russia’s formidable military-industrial complex needed investments, so China charged to the rescue, providing billions to the struggling Russian economy while upgrading its own armaments with Russian technology

A marriage of inconvenience was solemnized

China feels confident that Russia is unable to turn to the West since the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea (that China does not recognize), sundry “human rights” abuses against dissidents, poisonings, murders, election meddling – all of which have annoyed the West

China thinks it owns Russia that it considers a dying power, and sees it as a warehouse of raw materials and a fount of state-of-the-art military technologies

With Russia looking inwards trying to preserve its unity, China took full advantage to rise dramatically and emerge as the effective number two global power

Many believe, and I do, that the biggest gainer from the collapse of the USSR was not the west, but an eastern nation called China

Not many remember that in 1954, under Nikita Khrushchev, Russia sent letters of intent to France, Great Britain, and the United States about joining NATO!

A few days after a formal “No”, the USSR and its friends formed the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern Bloc counter-alliance

Europe was officially split for the next 40-plus years

In the 2020s, with is falling population, Russia feels it is being slowly devoured by China

An apocalyptic Russian film “China – a Deadly Friend” (in the series “Russia Deceived”) became an instant internet hit after its release in 2015

 In the film, we are told that China is preparing to invade the Russian Far East in its quest for global dominance

The annual summits between India and Russia, started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee are now a regular feature and the addition of the 2+2 format (Foreign and Defence Ministers) gives greater substance to the relationship

Exactly 20 years ago ONGC invested USD 1.83 bn for a 20% stake in the Exxon Neftegas managed and operated Sakhalin I oil field – it was payback time for us

Since then, Indian PSUs have already invested USD 15 billion in Russian energy projects

Russia is our largest investment destination in the oil and gas sector

The global political and economic swing has shifted from the transatlantic area to the Asian region

In his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly on 20 April 2021 (not widely reported), Vladimir Putin stressed that Russia would be respected, heard, and feared and none dare cross the red line it has drawn

There might be divergence on the Indo-Pacific, but we are firm in stating that contemporary challenges reflect the rebalanced character of global politics

Russia understands that the Quad is anti-China, not anti-Russia

It would be happy to regain its lost prestige, with India’s support

I believe that our time-tested relationship has no expiry date


India Russia relations - #PutininIndia, india, NarendraModi, Putin, Russia


Deepak Vohra

Ambassador Dr. Deepak Vohra, Made in India,
Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau,
Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil, Gauri Sadan, 5 Hailey Road, New Delhi 110001.


I am not Indian because I live in India, I am Indian because India lives in me!

They said: Hide from the storm; I replied: I am the storm  

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