India in Russia's Strategic Thinking

-Jyotsna Bakshi, Research Fellow, IDSA


The Soviet disintegration and the end of the Cold War were seen by Francis Fukuyama and the like in the jubilant West as the "end of history" that paved the way for the final and unquestioned US/Western supremacy in the world. There is no doubt that the USA is at the moment the sole surviving superpower and the only "complete power" in every sense of the term. However, life itself dictates that the political processes continue setting into motion ever new kaleidoscopic changes in the world political scenario.

Immediately after attaining independent statehood, new Russia followed a pronouncedly pro-Western and pro-US policy. Moscow hoped to bring about the targetted economic transformation from a centrally-controlled command economy to a free market economy integrated with the rest of the world and political transformation from a totalitarian state to a liberal democracy essentially with the help of Western political and financial support. In fact, both Mikhail Gorbachev towards the final phase of his rule and the present Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, expected the West to unfold a new "Marshal Plan" for Russia's economic recovery and transformation.1 Russian policy-makers—dominated by the "Westerners" and the "Atlanticists" at that time—fondly hoped that Russia would once again be a part of the Western world from which it was "torn off" by the October 1917 revolution.

Russia and India: Low Priority Initially

India and other Eastern countries were given a rather low place in the Russian order of priorities at the time. Unlike the former Soviet Union that needed a "special relationship" with India in its politico-strategic rivalry with both the West and China, Russia did not seem to need India as a strategic ally. With the emergence of independent Central Asian Republics, Russian and Indian borders have fallen further apart. India did not impinge on the immediate concerns of new Russia. Besides the West, the countries directly bordering on it occupied greater Russian attention. It was a period of uncertainty in Indo-Russian relations. The stand taken by India during the abortive August 1991 coup did not particularly endear her to the new Russian leaders.

A Russian Foreign Ministry publication on the "Concept of Russian Federation's Foreign Policy" in January 1993 put Russia's priorities in this order: (1) The CIS. (2) Arms control and international security. (3) Economic reform. (4) The United States. (5) Europe. (6) The Asia-Pacific region. (7) West and South Asia. (8) The Near East. (9) Africa. (10) Latin America.2 Thus, in the list of ten priorities, India and South Asia ranked seventh.

In fact, low priority accorded to India in Russian policy was reciprocated by India also. India tried to adjust to the post-Soviet world reality. In mid-1991, the Narasimha Rao government accelerated the process of liberalising the economy by removing controls. It sought International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank loans, and accepted some of the IMF-Bank conditionalities and opened up the economy to foreign investment. Both Washington and New Delhi made conciliatory gestures to each other. They sought new areas of cooperation, although the divergence of interests in important areas continued. Greater attention was also given to mending fences with Beijing.3

In a reversal of Cold War roles, Washington was making up with New Delhi. US arms supply to Pakistan was stopped in 1990 in view of the latter's nuclear programme and ambition. On the other hand, Moscow appeared to be improving ties with Pakistan. In November 1991, just before the Soviet collapse, Moscow for the first time voted in the UNO for a Pakistan-sponsored proposal for creating a nuclear-free zone in South Asia, much to the consternation of New Delhi.

It seemed two different schools of thought existed in Russia at this time regarding the policy towards India. One opinion favoured that the traditional "special" relationship with India should be retained. India should be given priority in the country's policy in South Asia, while at the same time developing good relations with other South Asian countries, including Pakistan. The other school favoured that the epoch of "special" relations with India should be ended. According to this approach, looking at the developments in the region "through Indian spectacles" affected Russia's relations with other regional actors, above all, Pakistan. The second view was associated with the Russian Foreign Ministry headed by Andrei Kozyrev. The first view was prevalent among the academic community and the Parliamentary circles.4

It seemed that in the last phase of the Soviet Union and the early period of Yeltsin's rule, the advocates of the second approach had an upper hand. In the changed geo-political scenario following the fall of the Soviet Union, Pakistan appeared to be more important from Moscow's point of view. Situated in close proximity to the newly independent Central Asian Republics and just next door to Afghanistan, Pakistan seemed to be in a position to influence the developments there. A view was held by some that during this period "the key Islamic actors" in the region meaning thereby Pakistan, Iran and Turkey "assumed priority over India."5 In December 1991, Russia's Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi, an Afghan war veteran, visited Pakistan. And as a pointer to growing warmth in Russian-Pakistan relations, an international conference was held in Moscow in April 1992 on relations between Pakistan and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).6

Moreover, with the supply of US arms to Pakistan having stopped in 1990, the latter was in search of new allies and sources of military hardware. It tried to move closer to Russia. To the chagrin of New Delhi, reports started accruing that Pakistan was exploring the possibility of purchasing arms from Russia.7 An apprehension was felt in India that the "garage sale of Russian arms" in a desperate bid to earn hard currency would only fill the armouries around India's neighbourhood, more particularly in Pakistan and China, posing a threat to the country's security.8

The desire to make a sharp break from the Soviet past and to be seen doing so also explains, to an extent, the Russian conduct during this period.

At the same time, in contrast to what appeared to be Russian wooing of Pakistan at the time, there also existed a strong opinion in that country that favoured closer relations with India and China as a counterweight to growing Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and Caucasus. This opinion was more pronounced in the Russian Parliamentary circles. It was also stressed that Russia's friendship with India and China would also counter the hegemonic desire of the USA in world policy and economy.9

During the period following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the fractious state of the Hindukush had emerged as an area of strategic understanding between Moscow and New Delhi. Both regarded the Najibullah government in Kabul as a bulwark against Islamic-fundamentalist Mujahideen forces. India apprehended that if these forces came to power in Kabul they would create security problems in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir at Pakistan's behest. The Najib government received crucial military and economic aid from Moscow. New Delhi extended it political and diplomatic support. There was greater appreciation in India for the Najib government's new political and economic programme aimed at national reconciliation and setting up of a plural democratic polity.

However, to the dismay and disappointment of New Delhi, Russia in its early diplomatic moves showed greater readiness to tolerate a Mujahideen government in Kabul and abandon the Najibullah government. The main Soviet/Russian concern during the closing days of 1991 was to secure the release of their prisoners of war who were in the custody of the Pakistan-backed Mujahideen factions. In a surprise new development in December 1991—when it was not clear as to who was in control in Moscow, the Soviet or Russian authorities—a delegation of Afghan Mujahideen was received there. Both sides agreed on the "necessity of the transfer of all state power in Afghanistan to a transitional Islamic government." Significantly, even the five-point plan proposed by the UN Secretary General for bringing peace in war-torn Afghanistan only talked of a "broad-based transitional government" and not of an "Islamic government." Moscow also agreed to cut all military supplies, ordnance and fuel for military transport to Kabul by January 1, 1992. This was bound to negate the edge that the Najib government in Kabul had by virtue of its Air Force. A similar commitment was not extracted from Pakistan to cut support to the Mujahideen.10 Moscow, thus seemed to have abandoned the nationalist-secularist Najib government, whom both the Soviet Union and India were supporting for ideological and geo-political reasons. India, no doubt, felt let down by this move of Moscow.

It seemed that during this period of uncertainty in Indo-Russian relations, Moscow was seeking some compromise and synthesis between the two divergent schools of thought regarding the approach to India mentioned above. The basic geo-political factors that lay at the root of the decades-long uninterrupted Indo-Soviet friendship could not be ignored altogether. On its part, the Russian military industrial complex was very keen to restore defence ties with such a large and lucrative market like India. Defence industry was the only field in which Russia could compete with the West. India was equally keen on the restoration of spare parts and military supplies from Russia as 60 to 70 per cent of defence purchases of India from abroad were from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was India's second largest trading partner. A very large part of the export of consumer goods from India was to the former Soviet Union. India and new Russia urgently needed to settle certain important issues left over from the Soviet era and put their relations back on the rails. These issues were bilateral trade, the supply of defence equipment and spare parts to India, rupee-rouble exchange rate, India's nearly 10 billion rouble debt to the former Soviet Union and the legacy of multifaceted Indo-Soviet cooperation which the two countries inherited.

In October 1992, a summary of the long-awaited foreign policy concept prepared by Russia's Foreign Ministry was made known to the public. As regards India, it reflected an attempt to paper over the two divergent approaches. A certain ambiguity in Russia's stand on India, however, continued. Russia did not want its policy to be "deliberately pro-India." Nor did it want the policy towards India to be artificially restrained in the name of striking abstract balance and "equidistance" between India and Pakistan. The main thing was that Moscow wanted its policy towards India to be pragmatic and flexible.11

President Yeltsin's scheduled visit to India was postponed twice in 1992. Throughout 1992, preference was given in Yeltsin's itinerary to visits to various Western capitals, reflecting the overall Westward orientation of the Russian policy at the time.

Yeltsin's Visit Clears the Fog

President Yeltsin's New Delhi visit in January 1993 removed the fog and put Indo-Russian relations on a firm footing. It showed a decision had been finally taken in the Kremlin in favour of according priority to relations with India in the South Asian context. Yeltsin's India visit, in conjunction with his visits to China and South Korea earlier, was also projected as an attempt to correct the earlier pro-West bias in Russia's foreign policy. It was stressed that Russia was both a European and an Asian power. It had direct geo-political interests in both the regions.

During Yeltsin's visit, the two countries signed a new twenty-year treaty of friendship and cooperation. Unlike the Indo-Soviet Treaty the word "peace" was not retained in the new treaty signifying that it did not have any strategic dimension. Also, in the new treaty, the security clause of the Indo-Soviet Treaty (Art 9) was not included. This clause had stipulated immediate "mutual consultations" and "appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and security of their countries." In the new treaty, India and Russia chose to commit themselves to a negatively worded clause only, whereby the two sides would refrain from taking any action that might affect the security interests of each other. In the post-Cold War world the two countries did not need security understanding. President Yeltsin particularly emphasised that Russia's policy aimed at friendship with all and was opposed to "axes, triangles, polygons, and, in general, any blocs." He added, "We do not at present regard anyone in Asia even as a potential adversary of ours."12 India could legitimately view it as the triumph of the principle of non-alignment, which she had been practising all through.

Indo-Russian relations were now placed on a sound footing of shared political and economic interests, devoid of rhetoric and platitudes, as was the case earlier.

The issues of India's ten billion rouble debt to the former Soviet Union and rupee-rouble exchange rate that had defied solution at the official-level talks earlier, were also settled during Yeltsin's visit to the apparent satisfaction of the visitor. While in India, President Yeltsin made very favourable political statements from the Indian point of view on various issues. President Yeltsin openly committed not to give military-technological assistance to Pakistan, but added that Russia would like to maintain some relations with Pakistan. What was more, he unequivocally and repeatedly supported India on the Kashmir issue. He said that on Kashmir "the truth was on the Indian side." Ever since Khrushchev's famous Srinagar speech some 37 years earlier, such an unambiguous statement of support was not made by any Kremlin leader, although it is true that Moscow never went against India's substantive interests on the issue. Yeltsin also gave the assurance of Russian support to India on this issue in the UN Security Council and other world fora. Thus, by this time, the dichotomy between the two approaches in Russia with regard to South Asia was resolved in India's favour. President Yeltsin also publicly declared that Russia would support India's candidature for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council whenever the question of the expansion of the Security Council arose.

He also affirmed that Russia would go ahead with the cryogenic rocket engine deal with India. In an oblique reference to US pressure not to sell cryogenic engines and related technology to India, he said that he would not be dictated by a third country in determining its bilateral ties with India.13

While in India, Yeltsin played up the theme of friendship and cooperation between three great Asian powers—Russia, India and China— for peace and stability in the region. All these three countries at this time appeared to be following largely similar policies. They were seeking Western investment and technology and general accommodation with the West. At the same time, they resented aspects of Western interference and pressure.

The fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal arms trade was emerging as an area of common interest to both India and Russia. On January 28, 1993, the two countries also signed a comprehensive agreement to ensure guaranteed supply of defence equipment, spare parts, product support and services needed for maintenance, repair and modernisation of Russian armaments for the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.14 The two countries also envisaged an increase in trade.

However, doubts persisted in India regarding Russia's ability to implement these agreements in view of the economic and political difficulties of the country. An apprehension was felt that despite sincere intentions of the leadership, the commitments might not be fulfilled by Moscow.

The Cryogenic Deal

Despite his brave words in New Delhi that Russia would go ahead with the cryogenic deal, President Yeltsin succumbed to the US pressure when he met the US President Bill Clinton in Tokyo in June 1993 on the occasion of the G-7 summit. A spokesman of the US State Department thereafter curtly declared that Russia would sell a few rocket engines to India but halt the transfer of technology. Because of the grave economic situation and political uncertainties at home, President Yeltsin's need for Western aid was particularly great. The Foreign and Finance Ministers of G-7 countries had offered an aid package to Russia worth $43,000 million in the Tokyo meeting in April 1993.15

The manner in which the Indo-Russian cryogenic deal was scuttled made it glaringly apparent to the whole world that the USA was calling the shots and Russia, the successor state of the once mighty superpower, was meekly obeying. It was quite shocking and not easily palatable to a sizeable section of vocal opinion in Russia. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, an independent centrist newspaper, for instance, ruefully remarked that during the past two years relations between Moscow and New Delhi were governed not by Russia's own interests but in accordance with US policy objectives.16

The USA objected to the deal on the ground that it involved the transfer of dual-use technology, which could be used for civil as well as military purposes. It was despite the fact that India and Russia had expressed their full commitment not to use the technology for the development of ballistic missiles. It was widely felt that the US pressure on Russia to shelve the deal was also partly dictated by the US commercial interests. The Russians felt that the USA did not want Russia to become a competitor in the world market of advanced technologies. It was also apparent that the USA did not want India, a prominent Third World country, to join the club of "space faring powers."17

Scuttling of the deal under US pressure made the divisions and cleavages within the Russian establishment open and apparent for everyone to see. Thus, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the President's staff, on the one hand and the Russian Parliament and the space agency, Glavkosmos, on the other, seemed to be speaking in different voices. The Indian contract worth $350 million was a major order for Glavkosmos at a time when sources of government funding of the space agency were shrinking. Apprehensions were felt that backtracking from the Indo-Russian space deal might adversely affect Indo-Russian cooperation in economic and military fields. It could have a negative impact on Russia's general image as a business partner and a source of defence purchases among the developing countries.

Amidst reports of persistent US pressure, Russia agreed to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in early September 1993 at the time of Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin's US visit. All Russian contracts with third countries were to be accordingly revised. And under the agreement, the USA was to get full information on such contracts signed since 1990.18

The Russians were keen to ensure that while they complied with the US desire to modify the cryogenic deal with India, they should be adequately compensated for the financial losses they were likely to incur. Thus, it was reported that the USA offered Russia by way of compensation for the loss of the Indian deal, bidding rights for launching nearly a dozen commercial satellites in the coming six years at $40-70 million a piece. Russia was also promised help in the construction of the international space station "Freedom."19

India drew her own conclusions. It seemed that there were clear limits to Indo-Russian cooperation involving sensitive areas of technology and defence. It was clear that on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and MTCR, Russia had chosen to stand solidly with the West. It was also noted that the new Russian nuclear doctrine adopted by the Russian Security Council in November 1993 was almost identical with the nuclear doctrines of the USA, UK and France. Since 1982, the former Soviet Union had stuck to the principle of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. However, the new Russian security policy authorised Russian forces to strike first with nuclear weapons in case of aggression against the Russian Federation and its "allies," which meant, as the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, made clear, the other CIS countries. Russia was, thus, taking upon itself the defence of the former Soviet space. Moreover, as Russia was reducing its defence expenditure and making its armed forces leaner and meaner, it moved closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) doctrine on nuclear deterrence. In India it was seen as Russia backing away from the Delhi Declaration signed by Rajiv Gandhi and Gorbachev in November 1986 banning the use and threat of use, of nuclear weapons. Ironically, this change in Russian nuclear doctrine took place at a time when it openly aliged itself with the West in putting pressure on India for signing the NPT, which India regarded as grossly discriminatory.20

Nonetheless, India and Russia displayed maturity and realism and did not allow the issue to come in the way of their mutually beneficial many-sided cooperation. The two sides also reached a compromise solution on the cryogenic issue subsequently, whereby Russia was to withhold from passing on to India those elements of technology that could be used for dual purposes. But the technology not considered dual purpose was to be transferred. For the balance money, Glavkosmos was to provide India two additional rocket engines.

The Government of India decided to go ahead with the indigenous development of the requisite technology. It was declared that as a consequence of watering down of the Indo-Russian deal, the Indian programme would at the most be put back by two years.

Shift in Moscow's Policy Stance

Observers of the Russian scene noted that since the end of 1992, Russian foreign policy was absorbing and reflecting the growing impulses in the country of assertive nationalism, disenchantment with the West for trying to browbeat Russia and for inadequacy of aid offered and actually delivered. Claims of Russia's status as an independent great power were repeatedly put forward.21 This tendency gathered momentum in 1993 and became particularly marked following the December 1993 elections to the Duma (Lower House of the Parliament). In the elections--the first democratic elections held after the collapse of Communism--the ultra-nationalists led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, emerged as the largest party. The Communists and other fellow sympathisers also enjoyed considerable say in the Duma much to the dismay of President Yeltsin and his team. The Yeltsin Administration could not ignore the dominant mood in the country. The "Westerners" or the "Atlanticists" that dominated Russian policy in the first year were pushed aside from the centre-stage. On the ascendance now were the "Euracists," "geo-politicians" and the "nationalists." Despite their mutual differences, they did not want Russia to blindly follow a pro-West policy. They favoured an independent policy arising from Russia's peculiar historical experience and geo-political situation.22

Moscow's new assertive mood has been most marked in dealing with the other former Soviet republics referred to as the "near abroad" in Russian parlance. The protection of the former Soviet borders is regarded as crucial for the sake of Russia's own security. In August 1992, Russia entered into an agreement with the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for the creation of a Russian and Central Asian peace-keeping force for the propping up of the ex-Communist regime in the Tajikistan civil war, challenged by the Islamic militants who were receiving aid and sanctuary in Mujahideen-ruled neighbouring Afghanistan.

It seemed friendship with large Asian countries like India and China fitted well with the new policy tack in Moscow. In this way, Russia can project itself as a truly Eurasian power. In fact, both India and Russia have a common stake in preventing Islamic militancy from spreading in the Central Asian region that falls between their borders. Russia and India have been in constant touch on the issue of civil war in Tajikistan. Indian Defence Minister Sharad Pawar and Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev discussed the Tajikistan problem during the former's visit to Moscow in September 1992. The two countries discussed the issue at summit level during Yeltsin's visit to New Delhi in January and Prime Minister Rao's visit to Moscow in June-end and early July 1994. Russia favoured India's participation in UN-sponsored talks on Tajikistan. However, Iran and Pakistan have opposed India's participation.

Russia, no doubt, has been wary of the Iranian and Pakistani propensity to mix economic and political diplomacy with religion. Russia fears that the spread of Islamic militancy in Central Asia could threaten the southern flank of Russia itself that has substantial Muslim populations. The Muslim-majority Caucasian republic of Chechnya is already seeking to break away from Russia. The events in Tajikistan have demonstrated that Russia would resolutely oppose the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and militancy. At the same time, Moscow would not like to antagonise the Muslim countries in the south, viz., Pakistan, Iran and Turkey if only to preclude the possibility of a Muslim bloc emerging in the region on an anti-Russian platform. Russian policy towards these countries is both flexible and realistic. It would like to maintain normal cooperative relations with them.

No doubt, there is greater convergence in the Russian and Indian interests in the region. As India does not have direct borders with the Central Asian Republics, she does not even remotely figure in the threat perception of Russia and the Central Asian Republics. In fact, Russia and the Central Asian Republics tend to view India as a helpful factor in countering other claimants for influence and domination in the region. While Russia may view India as a possible competitor in the economic field in the region, still the two countries have similar stakes and interests in preventing Islamic fundamentalism and militancy from spreading in the region. Both India and Russia are interested in peace and stability of the region and in promoting moderate regimes there that have a modern and secular approach and are opposed to religious fundamentalism and extremism of all kinds.

Moscow also appreciated the fact that India is basically a status-quo power. In contrast, Pakistan is interested in changing the political map of the region because of its ambitions regarding Kashmir since 1947 and its desire to have a compliant and subordinate regime in Kabul since 1988. Pakistan's ambition to create a regional Islamic bloc is viewed with concern in both Moscow and New Delhi. Moscow and Delhi also view with concern Pakistan's attempt to dominate Afghanistan by aiding and abetting the Taliban forces there.

It seems that old friendship and links tend to have an abiding character. Thus, when faced with choosing between India and Pakistan, Russia chose the former.23

The shift in Russian policy away from earlier pro-West orientation towards greater independence and assertiveness does not amount to a complete U-turn away from the West. Partnership and understanding with the West on many global and regional issues continue, first and foremost among them being the nuclear-strategic issue. In fact, Boris Yeltsin has been trying to perform a balancing act. He is trying to take the wind out of the sails of the ultra-nationalists and the Communists by playing to the tune of resurgent Russian nationalism. At the same time, a clear and unambiguous message is given to the Western leaders that he remains their best bet in Russia with the Communists lurking close behind in the struggle for power in Russia.

No wonder, Russia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace Programme along with other CIS countries in June 1994 despite much vacillation and hesitation initially. Russia is, however, strongly opposed to the eastward expansion of NATO.

On the nuclear-strategic issue--on the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)--Moscow stands firmly with the West. In fact, on January 14, 1994, President Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton signed a joint statement in Moscow pledging to take energetic measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There was a specific reference to the subcontinent, much to New Delhi's chagrin and pique. Russia and the USA called on "India and Pakistan to join in the negotiations of, and become original signatories to, the treaty banning nuclear weapons test explosions and the proposed convention to ban production of fissile material for nuclear explosives, and to refrain from deploying ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction to each other's territories." The Clinton-Yeltsin joint statement evoked strong media comment in India. It was pointed out that while calling on India and Pakistan to sign the NPT, the two had made no mention of Israel, which was also a nuclear-weapon threshold country. India opposed the NPT because it discriminated between the nuclear haves and have-nots. India had consistently exercised self-restraint and had abstained from producing nuclear weapons despite acquiring nuclear capability. India had long stood for a total ban on all nuclear tests and complete elimination of nuclear weapons and their stockpiles which would remove the difference between the nuclear haves and have-nots. The US-Russia joint statement was criticised for urging India and Pakistan to abstain from deploying nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, while ignoring the fact that such missiles were already deployed by other powers and they could target Indian territory. India resented the fact that China's nuclear might was not taken into view while asking India and Pakistan to sign the NPT.24

Indo-Russian differences on the nuclear-strategic issue, however, were not allowed by the two sides to come in the way of further strengthening of multifarious bilateral ties.

Further Cementing Ties

Prime Minister Rao's visit to Moscow from June 29 to July 2, 1994, provided an opportunity to further cement ties between the two countries. It seemed that the broader geo-political considerations were again impelling the two countries to come closer and revamp their economic and political ties. Several agreements were signed between the two countries to expand cooperation in the economic field and in science and technology. The two sides decided to set up joint ventures making use of the huge corpus of rupee funds meant for the repayment of the rouble debt. India agreed to participate in the modernisation of Novorossisk port and build warehouses there in return for priority berthing facilities. It was decided to set up a joint bank in Russia with the participation of the State Bank of India. It was stressed during the visit that the two countries would remain in the first circle of priorities for each other. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Yarov, emphasised that Indian students should be encouraged to come in large numbers to Russia for higher education. The speaker of the Russian Duma expressed the view that Russia could benefit from India's democratic experiment.25

The subject of defence supplies and spare parts to India was discussed. The Russian defence credit of $830 million announced earlier was further extended for two years as it had not been fully utilised so far. It was decided to set up a joint venture in military aviation in India to service all types of Russian military aircraft in operation around the Third World. The joint venture, it was pointed out, symbolised a new type of defence relationship between India and Russia from "buyer-seller" to "participation and interaction." It was made clear that Indo-Russian defence cooperation was not directed against any third country.

Amidst all this, a lurking apprehension remained in India over Russia's erratic and unreliable economic behaviour owing to political and economic confusion prevailing in the country.

The two leaders signed during the visit the "Moscow Declaration on the Protection of the Interests of Pluralistic States" which underscored their growing conceptual unity and adherence to common values in the post-Cold War world. Both countries subscribe to "internationally accepted standards of democracy and the rule of law." Both are following market-oriented economic reforms and are seeking "integration into the world economy on the basis of equal rights and responsibilities." They feel that new challenges to stability and security in the post-Cold War world are emerging from "forces of aggressive nationalism, religious and political extremism, terrorism and separatism, which strike at the unity of pluralistic states." The two reiterated their support for each other's territorial integrity as constituted by law and enshrined in their respective Constitutions. The Declaration expressed the belief that the "successful development of multi-ethnic, multi-religious states promotes international peace and stability." The international community was urged to respect the integrity of these states.

Russia succeeded in getting India's support for its vital concerns in the region. India welcomed the formation of the CIS and expressed appreciation for "Russia's efforts towards promoting the spirit of good neighbourliness and cooperation among states of the former USSR." India also showed understanding for Russia's concern for the safety and protection of the legitimate interests of the Russian-speaking people in the territories of the new republics.26 By implication, India recognises the prominent position of Russia in the former Soviet space. It would seem that on its part Russia also recognises the central geo-political position of India in the subcontinent.

The customary joint declaration issued at the time of Rao's visit noted that a "broad identity of views on global and regional issues" existed between the two countries. Of particular importance was the brief reference to "their deep interest in promoting peace and stability in the area between the borders of the Republic of India and the Russian Federation." The reference was to the newly-independent states of Central Asia as well as Afghanistan, which are emerging as a region of common geo-political and geo-strategic concern to Russia and India.

Home Minister S.B. Chavan visited Moscow in September 1994 to work out details of the two countries' commitment to combat terrorism, drug-trafficking and international crime. Russia and India share a common concern over the threat posed by growing narco-terrorism in the region.

Russia's Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin visited India from December 22 to 24, 1994, even as the country was in the thick of a military campaign to suppress the separatist regime of the Muslim-majority Caucasian republic of Chechnya. The visit testified to the growing importance of India in Russian foreign policy calculations. The Russian officials enthusiastically talked of "Russian-Indian partnership" and referred to India as their "biggest partner" in the region.27 Agreements were reached during the visit to streamline economic cooperation. An agreement was reached on long-term military and technical cooperation for the period upto the year 2000.

Speaking to journalists during the visit, Chernomyrdin categorically denied the reports regarding arms supply to Pakistan. He said: "As for arms to Pakistan, we have an agreement with the Indian leaders whereby our relations with Pakistan are fully transparent and open. We are not supplying any weapons to Pakistan today and we have no intention of doing that in the future."28

In Chernomyrdin's speeches in India, Pakistan's name figured prominently in the allegations of foreign mercenaries being involved in the fighting in Chechnya.29

India and Russia, on the other hand, are committed to supporting each other's unity and territorial integrity. Thus, the Indian Parliamentary team that visited Moscow in January 1995 took the stand that Chechnya is an internal matter of Russia. Speaking on this occasion, the Speaker of the Russian Duma, Vladimir Lukin expressed concern over the manner in which the ex-Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia were recognised despite the 1975 Helsinki Accord on inviolability of frontiers. It had, he added, precipitated the complex and intractable ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.30 Analogically, Moscow had reasons to suspect and apprehend the Western motives. India was regarded as a firm and reliable friend on the vital issue of the Russian Federation's unity.

Following the emergence of the Communists as the single largest party in the December 1995 Duma election (159 seats in the 450-member House with 22.3 per cent votes), President Yeltsin found it important to come to terms with the dominant mood in the country to take the wind out of the sails of the Communist platform by adopting some of their positions. In January 1996, his longstanding Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, with a pro-West reputation was replaced by Yevgeny Primakov, a former CPSU Politburo member. Primakov emphasised the need for correcting the imbalance in the country's ties with with the West and the East.

India was upgraded in the new Foreign Minister's order of priority areas. He mentioned India in the fourth place after the USA, Europe and China in the list of countries with whom it was deemed important to develop relations.31 Earlier in a January 1993 publication of the Russian Foreign Ministry, South Asia was placed in the seventh place in the list of ten priority areas.

Primakov visited India in March 1996. His predecessor Andrei Kozyrev had accompanied Yeltsin during the latter's India visit in January 1993, but had not independently visited New Delhi throughout his long tenure as the country's Foreign Minister from October 1990 to January 1996. Primakov spoke of India as a "global power" and a "priority partner" of Russia. It was stressed that the two countries were united in the common struggle of combatting terrorism, including narco-terrorism and in opposing certain dangerous international trends of discrimination against some countries.32 The issues that divided the two countries, for instance, the NPT and CTBT were kept off the agenda and were not allowed to spoil the growing warmth in Indo-Russian relations.

There is again a revival of the talk of Indo-Russian "strategic partnership." President Yeltsin and India's Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, during the latter's Moscow visit in October 1997 reaffirmed their countries' intentions to develop a strategic partnership. Military-technical cooperation is the backbone of their bilateral relations. India is the largest buyer of Russian military hardware. It is the only country in the world with which Russia has a long-term programme of military-technical cooperation, worth more than $10 billion. During the Indian Defence Minister's 1997 visit to Moscow, the two sides agreed to prolong such cooperation until the year 2012.

Moscow's Two Worlds

Like the proverbial double-headed eagle in the Russian flag, one facing the West and the other facing the East, Moscow has two worlds. Orientation towards the West has all through remained the main policy direction of new Russia. Moscow is no longer willing to play the former Soviet role of a balancing pole to the West or a rival power centre. Such a role, indeed, proved to be prohibitively costly and ultimately even suicidal for the former Soviet Union. The new Russian ruling elite comprising the higher echelons of civil-military bureaucracy and the emergent Russian commercial and industrial business class largely created through privatisation of state assets, has yet to fully entrench itself. It does not want to antagonise the West, which is seen as its main anchorsheet in terms of political, financial and strategic support in case of a domestic threat from rival political formations. During the Presidential elections in Russia in 1996, the mutual need of the Yeltsin regime and the West became only too apparent. The West openly backed Yeltsin and abhorred the possibility of the return of the Communists. It was reported, for instance, that before the elections, the West made about $14 billion available to Russia without conditions on their use. In February 1996, the IMF cleared a $10.3 billion credit to Russia. All this enabled President Yeltsin to increase social spending on the eve of the elections, pay accumulated wage arrears, give relief to sick industries, increase pensions and student benefits, etc.33 It must have contributed in a big way to President Yeltsin's electoral victory in July 1996. Moreover, a large part of the wealth amassed by the nouveau riche in Russia is known to have been transferred to the West where it has been invested in real estate or other ventures or has been mingled with the funds of multinational corporations in search of profitable investment opportunities around the globe.34 The present Russian ruling elite and influential circles are closely linked with the West.

Moscow values highly its membership of the nuclear club and its position as the second largest nuclear power in the world, its permanent membership of the UN Security Council and great power status and also its recently acquired membership of the rich and powerful G-7 (now G-8) countries. On nuclear-strategic issues, it stands with the West in the attempt to keep the nuclear club small and exclusive and perpetuate the division of the world between the nuclear haves and have-nots. India has refused to sign the NPT and CTBT because they are discriminatory in nature. India insists on the elimination of all nuclear weapons in a time-bound framework.

India and Russia have agreed to keep the divisive issues like the NPT, CTBT and MTCR off the agenda of top level talks. An understanding is dawning in India regarding the constraints and compulsions of Russian policy. It has been noticed, for instance, that despite Russian promise to support India's candidature for the permanent Security Council seat, Russia is not supporting India in the same energetic and vociferous manner in which Washington is supporting the case of Germany and Japan.35 In fact, during his visit to Calcutta in July 1996, the Russian Ambassador advised his hosts to go slow on the demand for the membership of the Security Council. He advised India to remain calm so as not to upset the existing system.36

On her part, India also does not favour exclusive relationships.

In the new geo-political situation Russia sees for itself the role of a "giant stabiliser on a global scale."37 It aspires to become a "Euro-Asian bridge" connecting the West with the East.

The proposed eastward extension of NATO and the inclusion of three former Warsaw Pact countries--Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary--are regarded as directly threatening the security of Russia. Russia appears to have evolved a two-track policy to meet the challenge. Firstly, it has made it repeatedly and unambiguously clear that it favours a multipolar world order and not a unipolar one dominated by the sole surviving superpower--the USA. NATO and plans of its eastward extension are seen as instruments of US domination of the European and world affairs. However, in its present state of military, political and economic weakness and vulnerability, Russia is not in a position of directly and effectively countering the move for NATO extension. The new Russia would also not like to take upon itself the former Soviet role of challenging the West on a global scale. In the circumstances, Russia has chosen to come to terms with NATO, engage it in a constructive dialogue in a bid to extract maximum concessions and favourable terms to minimise the security threat to Russia. Thus, President Yeltsin signed the Russia-NATO Founding Act on May 27, 1997, in Paris. According to the agreement, Russian strategic missile troops are no longer targetting the West.38

At the same time, it is firmly believed that Russia would be able to ensure its security, protect its national interests and play the role of a great power exercising necessary flexibility and manoeuvrability only in a truly multipolar world. In order to keep the heat of NATO's eastward extension off itself, Moscow is genuinely interested in the emergence of other independent power centres in the world. The US circles, after all, have made it clear that they would not favour the resurgence of another Eurasian power in place of the former Soviet Union that could pose a challenge to the West again. The Western attempts to prop up the "independence" of other former Soviet republics are aimed at keeping Russian power in check.39 Russia's attempts to strengthen its relations with the countries in the East, including India, may be seen in the context of its interest in promoting a multipolar world. No wonder, a section of the Russian media has commented on the recent agreement to extend Indo-Russian military-technical cooperation until the year 2012 under the heading "Russia Will Help India to Become Great Power."40



1. In January 1992, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this author was told by the Pravda correspondent in New Delhi that both Gorbachev and Yeltsin had one thing in common--they were both oriented towards the West.

2. Cited in Anita Inder Singh, "India's Relations with Russia and Central Asia," International Affairs (RIIA), vol. 71, no. 1, January 1995, p. 72.

3. See, for instance, Citha D. Maass, "Reorientation of Indian Foreign Policy After the Cold War," Aussenpolitik, vol. 44, no. 1, 1993, pp. 38-43.

4. T. Shaumian, "Russia's Eastern Diplomacy and India," World Affairs, December 1993, p. 55.

5. Leszek Buszynski, "Russia and the Asia-Pacific Region," Pacific Affairs, vol. 65, no. 4, Winter 1992-93, p. 490.

6. Ramesh Thakur, "South Asia," in Ramesh Thakur and Carlyle A. Thayer eds., Reshaping Regional Relations, Asia-Pacific and the Former Soviet Union (Boulder: Westview Press) 1993, p. 176.

7. Ibid.

8. K. Subrahmanyam in The Tribune, June 26, 1992.

9. Patriot, July 21, 1992.

10. Kesava Menon, "Afghan End-Game, After the Moscow Round," Frontline, December 20, 1991, pp. 48-49.

11. The Statesman, November 23, 1992.

12. Cited in Singh, n. 2, p. 70.

13. The Tribune, January 30, 1993.

14. The Tribune, January 29, 1993.

15. Keesing's Record of World Events, vol. 39, no. 4, 1993, p. 39422.

16. Reported in Times of India, July 26, 1993.

17. Shaumian, n. 4, pp. 56-57.

18. Ibid.

19. The Tribune, July 6, 1993.

20. K. Subrahmanyam, "New Russian N-Doctrine," Economic Times, November 8, 1993.

21. See, for instance, Hannes Adomeit, "Russia as a 'Great Power' in World Affairs, Images and Reality," International Affairs, (RIIA), vol. 71, no. 1, January 1995, pp. 35-37.

22. See, for instance, Olga Alexandrova, "Divergent Russian Foreign Policy Concepts," Aussenpolitik, vol. 44, 4th quarter 1993, pp. 366-371. Also, Jyotsna Bakshi, "Russia Shifts its Policy Gear," The Tribune, April 2, 1994.

23. Subsequently Moscow has also shown its displeasure with the Ukraine-Pakistan tank deal and has chosen not to supply some crucial Russian components for the tanks that Ukraine intends to supply to Pakistan.

On the other hand, the USA developed a renewed interest in Pakistan, which came to be viewed as a "reliable facilitator" of larger US interests in the region. Under the Brown Amendment (September 21, 1995) that modified the Pressler Amendment, Pakistan was given $368 million worth of US military equipment.

24. See, for instance, Jasjit Singh, "The Moscow Message," Hindustan Times, January 24, 1994; also, Inder Malhotra, "US-Russia Nuclear Effrontery," Times of India, January 20, 1994.

25. The Tribune, June 29, July 2, 1994.

26. Text of Indo-Russian joint declaration in Strategic Digest, August 1994, pp. 1077-1079.

27. The Tribune, December 29, 1994.

28. Hindustan Times, December 24, 1994.

29. Ibid.

30. The Pioneer, January 31, 1995.

31. The Hindu, January 31, 1996.

32. The Hindu, March 29, 1996.

33. Fred Weir, "Russian Presidential Poll: Priorities of the Yeltsin Regime," Mainstream, June 8, 1996, pp. 7-8.

34. It is estimated that about US$100 billion have been taken out of the country by Russia's nouveau riche.

35. The Statesman, January 8, 1996.

36. The Tribune, July 21, 1996.

37. Sergei Blagovolin, "New Geopolitical Situation: Let's Think About Future," Military News Bulletin, vol. VI, no. 7, July 1997, p. 13. The author is the Deputy Director, Institute of World Economics and International Relations, Moscow.

38. SWB, SU/3003/SI/3, August 21, 1997.

39. See, for instance, Zbigniew Brezezinski, "A Geostrategy for Eurasia," Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997, pp. 50-64, passim.

40. Alexander Shumilin, "Russia Will Help India Become Great Power," Commersant Daily, October 10, 1997.