Why does Russia often seem to side with India?

IR : Why-does-Russia-often-seem-to-side-with-India

Answer by Aditya Kumar:

I have tried to answer this in four parts. This is slightly long so please have patience.

But before that I would point out in response to  Ben Levy's answer that though ethnic and historical ties are important components of International relations but at times strategic interests take precedence. 

There are six major pillars of India Russia ties.

  • Politics
  • Defense
  • Nuclear Energy
  • Space
  • Anti-Terrorism
  • Economic

Part 1

The story of the story(Before Independence 1920s-1940s)

When the bolshevik revolution(1917) took place in Russia, its socialist ideas struck a chord with many political leaders and activists in India. Most of them were impressed with the fact that the workers, peasants etc who are mostly invisible in the public discourse in european countries were now not just part of the dialogue but were the main subjects of it and policies were formed keeping them in mind.
Prominent ones were M. N. Roy (founder of CPI) and Rabindranath Tagore (In USSR he was called Indian Tolstoy).

Here are a few extracts from tagore's Letters from Russia.

  If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I could have never believed that in just ten years they have not only led hundreds of thousands of people out of the darkness of ignorance and degradation and taught them to read and write, but also fostered in them a sense of human dignity. We need to come here specifically to study the organisation of education.

In previous times, the theatres were only open to the royal family and the nobility. Today they are packed full with people who only recently went around in filthy rags, barefoot, dying of starvation, living in constant fear before God, seeking any favour they could with priests, worried about the salvation of their souls and having been infinitely humbled, lying in the dirt at the feet of their masters”

For a  more objective and balanced view of what Tagore thought Tagore loved Russia till his dying day | Russia & India Report (He was also quite critical of them)

Tagore's writings were widely read by most Indian leaders, Gandhi and Nehru held him in high regards. The progress of the USSR was an inspiration and hope for Indian leaders because India had a large peasant class that participated in the Independence struggle and they were supposed to deliver once Independence was attained.

Part 2

The Story(After independence 1950s-1980s)

The first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had socialist leanings and along with Nikita Khrushchev he laid the foundations for very strong relationship which was reaffirmed on a number of events of which most notable ones are given.
(The reader should notice that USSR was more than eager to foster closer relations with India, the last point)Relations between the Soviet Union and India did not suffer much during the rightist Janata Party's coalition government in the late 1970s, although India did move to establish better economic and military relations with Western countries. To counter these efforts by India to diversify its relations, the Soviet Union proffered additional weaponry and economic assistance.

  • Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union supported Indian sovereignty over the disputed territory of the Kashmir region and over Portuguese coastal enclaves, e.g. Goa.
  • The Soviet Union declared its neutrality during the 1959 border dispute and the Sino-Indian war of October 1962, although the Chinese strongly objected.
  • The Soviet Union gave India substantial economic and military assistance during the Khrushchev period, and by 1960 India had received more Soviet assistance than China had.
  • This disparity became another point of contention in Sino-Soviet relations. In 1962 the Soviet Union agreed to transfer technology to co-produce the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 jet fighter in India, which the Soviet Union had earlier denied to China
  • In 1965 the Soviet Union served successfully as peace broker between India and Pakistan after an Indian-Pakistani border war. The Soviet Chairman of the Council of Ministers, literally Premier of the Soviet Union, Alexei Kosygin, met with representatives of India and Pakistan and helped them negotiate an end to the military conflict over Kashmir.
  • In 1971 the former East Pakistan region initiated an effort to secede from its political union with West Pakistan. India supported the secession and, as a guarantee against possible Chinese entrance into the conflict on the side of West Pakistan, it signed with the Soviet Union, the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in August 1971. In December, India entered the conflict and ensured the victory of the secessionists and the establishment of the new state of Bangladesh
  • Relations between the Soviet Union and India did not suffer much during the rightist Janata Party's coalition government in the late 1970s, although India did move to establish better economic and military relations with Western countries. To counter these efforts by India to diversify its relations, the Soviet Union proffered additional weaponry and economic assistance.
  • Rakesh Sharma(First Indian Astronaut) was sent there as a member of the soviet crew.
  • Many Indian universities were established through USSR's help. IIT Bombay for instance. JNU still has strong presence of Leftist ideologues, a byproduct of the soviet era.

A soviet stamp commemorating the friendship.

Also many Indian grew up reading Gorky. Many of us preparing for IIT JEE follow Irodov and Maron.

Raj Kapoor was a star in USSR, those who have watched Mera Naam Joker will understand what I mean.

(Source for most of the above points and the stamp. India–Russia relations)

Part 3

The above described eras are generally overlooked by a casual observer when describing Indo-Russian ties.

While it is the truth that implementation of the Soviet style Bureaucratic Planning (setting 5 year plans, regulation,licence raj etc) by Nehru had a detrimental impact on India as a whole, we cannot overlook the strong stand that USSR had taken in India's favor on many occasions as has been underlined in the above section, sometimes hurting its own national interests with China.

I do not intend to say that the interests of Russia and India are absolutely convergent, but in practice on many issue of strategic importance they have been so.

Most of the progress going on today can be found here
India–Russia relations

Part 4

I would suggest the readers not to perform a myopic analysis of what appears on the surface. I will present a few things which are not directly related to the question but still people interested in this question should know.

In any civilized country with a legitimate government having peoples support the power structure is never monolithic. So there are views and counter views and the government is supposed to form a policy that best serves the interest of its people. Here peoples interest are generally economic.For example

China-Japan relations are frigid. Still not much is done apart from name calling over visits to shrines, because of the staggering $320billion dollar trade that negates any possibility of armed action.  

The point to be taken is that in the current decade and the decades to come, sensible governments give precedence to economic interests over other issues. So while they avoid direct confrontation, they resort to "tough words", and let economics take its course.

India-Russia relations are not that strong on the economic front. However post-Ukraine crisis Russia is looking towards Asia. The recent $300 billion gas deal with China is a momentous beginning of the same.
And as I see it any direct confrontation between India and China in the future is highly unlikely once again economics at play(nuclear angle is also present but its not that important)  as we have large number of Chinese firms building infrastructure in India.

I do not completely agree with Ben Levy's answer on the issue of containing China.

Because in the 80's and 90's containing China was a component but USA has more issues with China today than do India and Russia.
And as the part 1 and 2 show that India-Russia ties go much beyond that.

Also in the near future post-US Afghanistan withdrawal I see an extended India-Russia-China cooperation in security and trade.

But even India and Russia have issues. The recent sale of MIG jets to pakistan being one of them.

Hence to conclude this poorly organized piece of armchair analysis.

We are moving on to a multi-polar world where alliances form and break on issues and not ideologies and India and Russia are no exception to it.

PS-Comments and edits and criticism are welcomed, this is my first long answer on quora.

Why does Russia often seem to side with India?


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