Towards a “Strategic Partnership” in India-Russia Relations

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In an interview that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave on August 28, 2022, he stated that relations with India were at the highest level, with the proposal of New Delhi, these relations began to be called «Privileged Strategic Partnership,» and Moscow would not have a relationship with any other country to be defined in this way.[1] The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to New Delhi at the end of 2021 has been the most important symbol of this partnership. In addition, the cooperation carried out on the axis of multipolarity within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS and the Russia-India-China troika has started to go beyond the alliance relationship today.

India’s participation in the multinational military exercises Vostok-2022, held in Russia and in which China will also take part, shows that Moscow-New Delhi relations are at a much higher level than expected. India, which regularly participates in the exercises of the United States of America (USA) and its allies as a member of QUAD, participated in the Zapad-2021 exercises of Russia in 2021, together with China. This has signaled that India’s foreign policy has become increasingly multi-vectored. Coming out of the USA-Russia rivalry stronger, India is drawing its own path as a non-aligned country instead of being on the axis of the West or the East.

These sensitivities have also drawn attention in their relations with Russia. For example, despite participating in Vostok-2022, New Delhi did not take part in exercises in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk and the Sea of ​​Japan, taking into account the sensitivity of its ally Tokyo in QUAD.[2] Similarly, India may have conveyed to Russia that it does not want to participate in the sections involving China in the exercises in question. It can be said that New Delhi’s role in the exercises is limited to strategic command levels and personnel participation, and it does not participate in the maritime division and parts of China. The most practical benefit that India will gain from this is that it will see China’s military capabilities very close.

Many countries, from Syria to Nicaragua, from Azerbaijan to Laos and Belarus, participated in this exercises hosted by Russia. Therefore, it is important for India to take part in the same exercises with the former Soviet countries Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan within the scope of Vostok-2022. In this way, New Delhi, which aims to turn its face to Asian countries, may consider holding bilateral and multilateral exercises with Central Asian states in the future. As a matter of fact, while India is considered an ally of the USA in the seas; in Asia, it is generally considered close to Russia. Therefore, the Vostok-2022 exercises can contribute to India’s opening up to Asia with the help of Russia. In other words, New Delhi may need Moscow’s help to reassert itself as a Eurasian power.

Response of the US

The Washington administration has said that New Delhi has historical ties to Moscow and that it will take long-term preparation to move its foreign policy away from it.[3] As a matter of fact, although the USA supports India to develop its military capacity and war capabilities, this is not enough when compared to Russia. Because, Russia’s biggest market in military equipment is India with 42%. France comes in second place with a share of 27% and the USA comes in third with 12%.

As for combat capabilities, the USA has been providing mountain warfare training since 2020 to help India in border conflicts with China. Despite this, the Washington administration partially understood that India would participate in Russia’s military exercises. Because it is aware that it does not give enough support to India in this regard. India, just like in the case of Turkey, has been demanding warplanes and other military equipment from the USA for years; however, India says that it could not get enough support in this regard and that’s why it turned to Russia. US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price noted the following:[4]

“Diverting a country’s foreign policy or a country’s security order or defense procurement practices from a country like Russia is not something we can do overnight. It’s not something we can do for weeks or even months. We see this as a long-term challenge.”

From the above statement, we can conclude that the USA needs 5-10 years ahead of itself in order to militarily draw India to its side. During this period, it seems inevitable that India will deepen its partnership with Russia. Therefore, the USA looks at these developments from a broader perspective. For example, US President Joe Biden stated that they have concerns about every country participating in military exercises with Russia, and that this is not limited to India.[5] Because while there is a war with Ukraine; participating in Russia’s military exercises can also mean appreciating its military power and thus supporting the war in Ukraine.

In addition to China and India, the participation of countries such as Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria, Belarus, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in the exercises is interpreted as positioning on the opposite side of the USA and supporting Russia’s war. Moscow, on the other hand, does this rather than building an axis around itself; it sees it as an effort to destroy the hegemony of the West and to establish multipolarity.

Geopolitical Consequences

While India’s relations with the USA are defined with pacts which take place between these countries; raising its relations with Russia to the level of strategic partnership at all levels may lead to serious breaks in regional and global geopolitics. Because in the alliance relationship, the parties respect each other’s national interests and some differences of opinion in bilateral relations and foreign policy can be tolerated. However, strategic partnership means absolute cooperation in both bilateral relations and foreign policy issues. This level of cooperation is often described as an “alliance.”

At this point, it is necessary to draw attention once again to a point that Lavrov emphasized, as a result of the insistent demands of New Delhi, that the bilateral relations were raised to the level of «Privileged Strategic Partnership». Normally, Russia does not accept this kind of relationship with any country. Here, it can be said that India has made a special effort to take its relations with Russia to the next level.

The most important result of this rapprochement will be felt on China’s foreign policy. As a matter of fact, China-Russia relations are also considered at the level of strategic partnership. New Delhi offered Moscow a «privileged and priority strategic partnership» in order to rise above this level in China-Russian relations. In short, New Delhi wants to be closer to Moscow than Beijing. Because Russia-India rapprochement may alienate China in the global system and lead to its isolation. For this reason, the Moscow administration advocates cooperation within the framework of the troika in order to keep good relations with both actors.

The most important effect of the «Priority and Privileged Strategic Partnership» between India and Russia can be seen on the Indo-Pacific policy of the USA. Washington may reduce the areas it cooperates with New Delhi, which has long been unwilling to cooperate within the framework of QUAD, and may completely exclude India from its new alliances in the Pacific. This situation will also hit the US strategy to contain China. On the other hand, it will bring the US-China rapprochement with it. Because of the Russia-India alliance, Beijing may fall into the «other» situation. Despite this, it can be predicted that China will never move away from Russia and will continue its dialogue with India within the framework of the troika.

In any case, China acts as a barrier to India’s rapprochement with Russia. It is in Washington’s interests that New Delhi cannot cooperate closely with Moscow due to Sino-Indian rivalry. Therefore, the Indo-Chinese hostility and the Russian-Chinese alliance; In other words, the current status quo allows the USA to improve its relations with India. Despite this, India intends to form an alliance with Russia by breaking the current status quo. It is the USA itself that marginalizes India. Therefore, it is he who will suffer the consequences.

[1] “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview with Zvezda Television Channel for a Documentary Covering the Non-Aligned Movement, Moscow, August 28, 2022”, Mid Ru,, (Date of Accession: 31.08.2022).

[2] “India to Join Russia’s Vostok 2022 Wargames, But Stay Away from Naval Drill to Avoid Hurting Japan’s Sensitivity”, Deccan Herald,, (Date of Accession: 31.08.2022).

[3] “India, China to Send Troops to Russia for Military Exercise”, Economic Times,, (Date of Accession: 31.08.2022).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “US Concerned About India’s Participation in Russia Military Exercises”, Al Arabiya,, (Date of Accession: 31.08.2022).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.