India's ties with Russia remains steady. But Moscow's tighter embrace of China makes it wary

The text discusses how Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has led to it growing closer to Beijing, and how this raises national security concerns for India.

India's ties with Russia remains steady. But Moscow's tighter embrace of China makes it wary

Important Points

Sreeramchaulia said that the relationship has "gone from being a high-value strategic one to a transactional partnership," adding that Moscow's "tighter embrace of China", does not bode well for India’s national security.

India and Russia's relationship remains strong as both sides strive to strengthen their economic ties. Moscow, however, has grown closer to Beijing after the invasion of Ukraine. This raises serious national security concerns for New Delhi.

S. Jaishankar, the Indian minister of external affairs, recently stated that India was prepared to resume free trade negotiations with Russia.

He said that the partnership was "amongst the most stable" in the entire world, and not because of any changes.

Denis Manturov, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia during his visit to Delhi, said that Russia wants to "intensify' free trade talks with India. Manturov also serves as Moscow's Trade Minister.

India's leaders, despite the economic cooperation they have shown, are "carefully monitoring" as Russia is increasingly isolated and gets closer to "China’s corner," according to Harsh V.Pant, vice president of studies and foreign policy for Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

India will be concerned about Russia's "weak position and vulnerability" as well as its growing dependence on China, for both economic and strategic purposes, according to CNBC.

Pant said that it's getting "more difficult every day" because of the growing closeness between Beijing and Moscow. India would certainly not want to see this happen.

Pant said that New Delhi would do everything possible to avoid any potential "alliance or axis" between Russia and China. As that would have far-reaching consequences and fundamentally change India's strategic calculus and foreign policy.

This FTA is one of many reasons that India continues to trade and buy Russian oil at low prices.

He noted that "this relationship appears to be going from being a high-value strategic one, to a transactional partnership," adding that Moscow's "tighter embracing of China" does not bode well for India’s national security.

India, the country that currently holds the G-20 presidency, has not condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

A reliable partner?

In its latest foreign-policy doctrine, published late in March, Russia stated that it would "continue to develop a strategic partnership with India which is particularly privileged".

New Delhi has had a long-standing relationship with Moscow since the Cold War. It is heavily dependent on Moscow for its military hardware. ORF's Pant said that this defense cooperation was vital, given the tensions between India and an assertive China along India's Himalayan border.

Analysts say that due to the Ukraine conflict, Russia has not been able deliver the critical defense supplies to India's army. This could cause a strain in the relationship.

In a March report, the Indian Armed Forces admitted to a parliamentary panel that "a major delivery" from Russia "was not going to happen". The IAF official stated that "they have written us to say they are unable to deliver" the shipment. The report didn't mention any specifics about the delivery.

Chaulia, from the Jindal School, said that Russia has already delayed delivery of S-400 Anti-Missile Delivery Systems to India because of the Ukraine War. "There is a question mark over Russia's reliability."

India's dependence on Moscow was historically seen as crucial "to moderate China's aggressiveness," he said, in order to maintain a balance of power between Beijing and New Delhi.

The country can no longer expect Russia to continue to play the same role in India that it did before the Ukraine conflict. He said that this is due to the technological degradation and weakness of their military as a result the war.

'No limits' partnership

Pant said that Indian authorities would continue to "make every effort until the last minute" to "create some space" in the Russia-China dynamics, so "that the space could [be] exploited by India, to ensure its influence over Moscow remains intact."

China has also taken steps to improve its relations with Russia. In March, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow. The two leaders vowed that their relationship would be deepened.

In February of last year, just before Russia invaded Ukraine, both sides signed a partnership with "no limitations" and agreed that there would be no "forbidden areas" for cooperation.


Russia and China are strengthening their ties as formal talks between Putin and Xi begin.

Felix K. Chang of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, a think tank, said that if war were to break out between India and China, "a Russian tilt" would be "clearly bad for India".

He wrote that even without a conflict, "China’s warm relationship to Russia could encourage Beijing pursue its interests in South Asia more aggressively, whether along its disputed Himalayan borders or with India’s neighbors," in April. "That could also shift the balance of power between China and India, leading to increased regional tensions," he wrote in April.

Chang said that India must "pick up pace" when it comes to its embrace of the West "given the closeness between China and Russia due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict."

The U.S.

Pant, ORF, stated that the West understands the challenges India faces in Indo-Pacific, and "that it requires Moscow to manage Beijing in the short-to-medium term, given its defence relationship with Russia."

He said that despite the differences about Ukraine, the Western outreach towards India is driven by a concern for national security.

The third Quad Leaders Summit will be held in Sydney, Australia on May 24, where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden of the United States will attend. The Quad is a informal security alliance of four major democracies formed in response to China’s growing strength in the Indo-Pacific.

The United States sees China as the biggest threat to U.S. global dominance, but it doesn't see India in that light, said Rajan Menon. He is the director of Defense Priorities' grand strategy program, a Washington think tank.

He noted that "India is not seen as a counterbalance to China, but rather as a partner."

Menon stated that "this overlap of strategic interests explains why Washington did not react to India's alliance with Moscow the same way it has responded to the friendship China has formed with Russia, which is a 'no limits' relationship."

Pant noted that Russia's biggest test will be how it balances the evolving India-China dynamics.

It will be interesting to watch how this triangle functions. He noted that in the past it worked because the three countries were all on the same page about a multipolar universe, with the United States as the main target.

"Today for India, the attempt by China to create hegemony is the target. Pant said that Russia and China have different priorities than India. New Delhi will examine Russia's ability "to manage India and China" in the future.