Despite Western irritation, India continues to look for Russia


NOS NewsFriday, 06:00

Russian President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Modi will meet later today on the margins of the regional security summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, trade between Russia and India has more than doubled. India has mainly increased the import of cheap Russian oil.

The government in New Delhi does not care much for Western pressure to cut ties with Russia. The ties with Russia are so strong that they are not easy to break, say Indian analysts.

Bet on two horses

Since India bets on two horses in its international relations, the country’s position at the top is complicated. As a full member, India will chair the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) next year. But meanwhile, the country is also part of a partnership that aims to counterbalance China’s influence in the Pacific. Together with Australia, Japan and the United States, India forms the so-called Quad, much to the dismay of China and Russia.

According to Rajeswari Rajagopalan, director of the Center for Security, Strategy & Technology (CSST) in New Delhi, India’s interests in the various international organizations diverge. “Participation in the Quad is much more of a long-term strategic importance for India. The SCO meeting in Uzbekistan is much more about attendance, making your voice heard.”

Western pressure

The ties between Russia and India are causing irritation among Western allies. “It is a conscious choice by India to be politically autonomous,” said Shibani Mehta of the Carnegie Institute: “By working with the US in the Pacific, the country hopes to avoid political isolation”.

By not openly taking sides, India hopes to do business with everyone internationally. The only question is how long it can be kept. Foreign Minister Jaishankar and Prime Minister Modi have repeatedly said that the purchase of Russian oil has no political significance. The most important thing is affordable energy for every Indian citizen, they say.

“But how long can we deny that we are financing the war in Ukraine with this?”, analyst Rajagopalan wonders aloud.

Historical gangs

Political loyalty also plays a role in the relationship between India and Russia. In the period after independence (1947) India strengthened its ties with the then Soviet Union. This provided India with crucial support in the war with Pakistan in 1971. India was victorious in that war.

“As a result, it is still unthinkable for many politicians that Modi would now speak negatively or critically about Russia,” said Rajeswari Rajagopalan.

Unreliable ally

Yet Russia is no longer India’s reliable ally it once was. The war in Ukraine has left Russia more dependent on China. And China, according to Rajeswari Rajagopalan, is currently the biggest threat to India’s internal security.

In 2020, militaries from both countries clashed along the Sino-Indian border in the Himalaya region. Twenty Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed. At the SCO summit, Xi and Modi will meet for the first time since that confrontation at the border.

“It is unlikely that Modi will bring this up during today’s meeting. It is a clear point of tension,” said Rajagopalan.