The United States considers collaboration with India as vital in addressing its concerns regarding China’s destabilising activities in the Indo-Pacific region. Simultaneously, the U.S. views Russia as a strategic threat.
However, India has a long-standing and deep-rooted relationship with Russia, which poses a challenge to the United States. Russia serves as a significant exporter of arms, supplying approximately $13 billion worth of weaponry to India over the past five years. Additionally, Russia exports around 1.6 million barrels of oil per day to India. As Russia strengthens its ties with China, the U.S. evaluates the potential long-term impact on Indian-Russian relations and how it may influence cooperation with India in addressing mutual concerns.
The Historical Context of Indian-Russian Ties During the Cold War
India’s relationship with the United States was strained due to India’s nuclear weapons program and close American ties with Pakistan, a country with which India has territorial disputes that have resulted in armed conflicts. In response to U.S. sanctions, India turned to Russia as its primary arms supplier. Furthermore, India emerged as a prominent leader in the global non-aligned movement, which aimed to avoid taking sides during the Cold War. However, the Soviet Union actively supported this movement. Many Indians also pursued advanced military, scientific, and public education in Russia.
Recent Developments in Indian-Russian Relations
In recent years, India has forged closer ties with the United States, perceiving American power and influence as crucial in balancing China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific. A significant milestone in this cooperation was the establishment of the Quad, a joint forum comprising India, the United States, Australia, and Japan. The Quad aims to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region and manage the security challenges posed by China. Despite this growing alignment with the U.S., India continues to maintain strong economic, diplomatic, and military ties with Russia.
The Challenge of Chinese-Russian Cooperation
A complicating factor for India’s strategic outlook is the deepening alignment between Russia and China. Russia has turned to China for support due to its isolation from the West following the conflict in Ukraine. China also stands as a major customer for Russian energy resources. Moreover, Russia has sought military assistance from China, as declared by Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin in their “no-limits” partnership.
The formation of a Sino-Russian bloc presents a strategic dilemma for India, particularly given Russia’s subordinate role in the partnership. India must consider the possibility of Beijing leveraging its influence over Moscow to exert pressure on India.
Navigating these complexities poses challenges for India’s strategy. It must carefully manage its relationships with both the United States and Russia while monitoring the evolving dynamics between Russia and China. Finding a balance that safeguards its interests and national security objectives is crucial for India as it seeks to address mutual concerns with its international partners.