India and Russia: an unbroken, long-term relationship

International relations India Russia (Federation)

While not all aspects of India’s relationship with Russia have been smooth – it was threatened, for example, by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 – this paper explores the development of what is a long-lasting relationship. That relationship extends from leader-to-leader meetings in 1955, to Soviet support for India in its war with China in 1962, and its role as the chosen mediator after the UN-induced ceasefire in the war between India and Pakistan in 1965. The Indo-Russian Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation, signed in 1971, was greeted with suspicion by the Western powers, which saw India as abandoning its prized non-alignment policy to enter the Soviet camp. The Treaty terms, however, remain a subtle backbone to Indo-Russian long-term relations, while New Delhi remains unswayed by recent attempts by Washington to cajole and coerce India to ally with it.

Key points:

  • Indo-Russian contact goes back to Nehru’s first visit to Soviet Russia in the 1930s.
  • Moves by the Western allies – SEATO, the Baghdad Pact and US-Pakistan relations – pushed non-aligned India towards China in 1954 and the Soviet Union in 1955, when exchange visits took place.
  • The Sino-Indian war (1962) and the Indo-Pakistani wars in 1965 and 1971 furthered the Indo-Russian relationship.
  • The Indo-Russian Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation (1971) was viewed with concern by the Western powers.
  • The Indo-Russian relationship has been challenged in recent times by India’s growing links with the US, but President Trump’s June 2019 termination of the US preferential trade status for India has brought a new element to their bilateral relationship.
  • Under a more “India First” second Modi Government, India may be provoked into reassessing where its best interests lie.
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