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New Delhi recently approved a 181.48 billion rupee (US$2.4 billion) defence deal with Russia last week. This has led to further discussion in policy circles over the wisdom of New Delhi’s dependence on Moscow. It comes at a delicate time for India amid tensions with China in the wake of their Himalayan border dispute.
A key concern is whether Russia will remain a reliable ally given its deepening ties with China – Moscow’s top trading partner.
But analysts believe that Delhi will have to continue building on its historic Russian relations, even as it grows closer to the United States.
“China provides a market for Russia, especially when it comes to things like natural gas, that it is not able to sell in the West because of the sanctions,” said Sanjay Kumar Pandey, a professor who specialises in Russian Foreign Policy at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
During this ongoing dispute, the United States has been aligned with India.
It now raises questions as to whether or not it would, therefore, be wiser to rely on the US than Russia.
Political analyst Rajeshwari Rajagopalan explained there was still scepticism in some Indian diplomatic quarters towards Washington.
This was down to historical friction between the two during the Cold War years.
A time in which India was perceived to be close to Russia while the US-backed India’s rival Pakistan on strategic matters.
“Hence, many believe that India must not put all its eggs in one basket, rather continue to follow the middle-path by pushing for engagement with both Russia as well as the United States,” said Rajagopalan.
He is a distinguished fellow and head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi.
There was a great deal of ‘camaraderie’ built up between both Russia and India during the Cold War.
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A partnership that strengthened their alliance and still to this day Russia remains the largest arms supplier to India.
Last week India’s government approved the purchase of 33 fighter jets and upgrades for 59 planes in a bid to ramp up its air force capabilities.
This was after Moscow convinced India and China to participate in a virtual three-way summit and hosted their defence ministers for the 75th anniversary of Russia’s victory in World War II.
The same day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on Russia’s “successful completion of the vote on constitutional amendments”, making him the only leader of a major democracy to do so.
According to retired Indian Navy Commodore C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, an independent Delhi think-tank, Russia’s involvement points to the close ties that the two countries continue to share.
“Russia’s role indicates the resilience and depth of the Delhi-Moscow relationship,” he said.
Pandey said the partnership between both countries remained strong, pointing to the pair’s historical ties.
Indeed, after India won its independence from Britain in 1947, a number of Soviet-era socialist policies inspired the state’s role in planning.
India’s main planning instrument, its “Five Year Plans”, were inspired by those of the Soviet Union for economic policy. In India’s second Five Year Plan, eight of the 16 heavy industry projects were set up with Soviet Union’s help.
“Till a few years ago, there was widespread acceptance of socialism. India saw massive aid flows coming from the Soviet Union, especially to help the country’s early industrialisation,” said Pandey, who is based at JNU’s Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies.
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