India Table of Contents

Despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the relationship between India and Russia remains one of considerable importance to both countries. Since the early 1950s, New Delhi and Moscow had built friendly relations on the basis of realpolitik. India's nonalignment enabled it to accept Soviet support in areas of strategic congruence, as in disputes with Pakistan and China, without subscribing to Soviet global policies or proposals for Asian collective security. Close and cooperative ties were forged in particular in the sectors of Indian industrial development and defense production and purchases. But the relationship was circumscribed by wide differences in domestic and social systems and the absence of substantial people-to-people contact--in contrast to India's relations with the United States (see United States, this ch.).

Ties between India and the Soviet Union initially were distant. Nehru had expressed admiration for the Soviet Union's rapid economic transformation, but the Soviet Union regarded India as a "tool of Anglo-American imperialism." After Josef Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviet Union expressed its hopes for "friendly cooperation" with India. This aim was prompted by the Soviet decision to broaden its international contacts and to cultivate the nonaligned and newly independent countries of Asia and Africa. Nehru's state visit to the Soviet Union in June 1955 was the first of its kind for an Indian prime minister. It was followed by the trip of Premier Nikolai Bulganin and General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev to India in November and December 1955. The Soviet leaders endorsed the entire range of Indian foreign policy based on the Panch Shila and supported India's position against Pakistan on Kashmir. The Soviet Union also supported India's position vis--vis Portugal on Goa, which was territorially integrated into India as a union territory by the Indian armed forces in December 1961 (it became a state in May 1987).

The Soviet Union and some East European countries offered India new avenues of trade and economic assistance. By 1965 the Soviet Union was the second largest national contributor to India's development. These new arrangements contributed to India's emergence as a significant industrial power through the construction of plants to produce steel, heavy machinery and equipment, machine tools, and precision instruments, and to generate power and extract and refine petroleum. Soviet investment was in India's public-sector industry, which the World Bank (see Glossary) and Western industrial powers had been unwilling to assist until spurred by Soviet competition. Soviet aid was extended on the basis of long-term, government-to-government programs, which covered successive phases of technical training for Indians, supply of raw materials, progressive use of Indian inputs, and markets for finished products. Bilateral arrangements were made in nonconvertible national currencies, helping to conserve India's scarce foreign exchange. Thus the Soviet contribution to Indian economic development was generally regarded by foreign and domestic observers as positive (see Foreign Economic Relations, ch. 6).

Nehru obtained a Soviet commitment to neutrality on the India-China border dispute and war of 1962. During the India-Pakistan war of 1965, the Soviet Union acted with the United States in the UN Security Council to bring about a cease-fire. Soviet premier Aleksei N. Kosygin went further by offering his good offices for a negotiated settlement, which took place at Tashkent on January 10, 1966. Until 1969 the Soviet Union took an evenhanded position in South Asia and supplied a limited quantity of arms to Pakistan in 1968. From 1959 India had accepted Soviet offers of military sales. Indian acquisition of Soviet military equipment was important because purchases were made against deferred rupee payments, a major concession to India's chronic shortage of foreign exchange. Simultaneous provisions were made for licensed manufacture and modification in India, one criterion of self-reliant defense on which India placed increasing emphasis. In addition, Soviet sales were made without any demands for restricted deployment, adjustments in Indian policies toward other countries, adherence to Soviet global policies, or acceptance of Soviet military advisers. In this way, Indian national autonomy was not compromised.

The most intimate phase in relations between India and the Soviet Union was the period between 1971 and 1976: its highlight was the twenty-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation of August 1971. Articles 8, 9, and 10 of the treaty committed the parties "to abstain from providing any assistance to any third party that engages in armed conflict with the other" and "in the event of either party being subjected to an attack or threat thereof . . . to immediately enter into mutual consultations." India benefited at the time because the Soviet Union came to support the Indian position on Bangladesh and because the treaty acted as a deterrent to China. New Delhi also received accelerated shipments of Soviet military equipment in the last quarter of 1971. The first state visit of Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev to India in November 1973 was conducted with tremendous fanfare and stressed the theme of economic cooperation. By the late 1970s, the Soviet Union was India's largest trading partner.

The friendship treaty notwithstanding, Indira Gandhi did not alter important principles of Indian foreign policy. She made it clear that the Soviet Union would not receive any special privileges--much less naval base rights--in Indian ports, despite the major Soviet contribution to the construction of shipbuilding and ship-repair facilities at Bombay on the west coast and at Vishakhapatnam on the east coast. India's advocacy of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace was directed against aggrandizement of the Soviet naval presence as much as that of other extraregional powers. By repeatedly emphasizing the nonexclusive nature of its friendship with the Soviet Union, India kept open the way for normalizing relations with China and improving ties with the West.

After the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, Indian diplomats avoided condemnatory language and resolutions as useless Cold War exercises that could only antagonize the Soviet Union and postpone political settlement. They called instead for withdrawal of all foreign troops and negotiation among concerned parties. In meetings with Soviet leaders in New Delhi in 1980 and in Moscow in 1982, Indira Gandhi privately pressed harder for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and for the restoration of Afghanistan's traditional nonalignment and independence.

Rajiv Gandhi journeyed to the Soviet Union in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989, and Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev traveled to India in 1986 and 1988. These visits and those of other high officials evoked effusive references to the "exemplary" (in Gorbachev's term) friendship between the two countries and also achieved the conclusion of agreements to expand economic, cultural, and scientific and technological cooperation. In 1985 and 1986, and again in 1988, both nations signed pacts to boost bilateral trade and provide Soviet investment and technical assistance for Indian industrial, telecommunications, and transportation projects. In 1985 and 1988, the Soviet Union also extended to India credits of 1 billion rubles and 3 billion rubles, respectively (a total of about US$2.4 billion), for the purchase of Soviet machinery and goods. Protocols for scientific cooperation, signed in 1985 and 1987, provided the framework for joint research and projects in space science and such high-technology areas as biotechnology, computers, and lasers. The flow of advanced Soviet military equipment also continued in the mid- and late 1980s (see The Air Force, ch. 10).

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, India was faced with the difficult task of reorienting its external affairs and forging relations with the fifteen Soviet successor states, of which Russia was the most important (see Central Asia, this ch.). In 1993 New Delhi and Moscow worked to redefine their relationship according to post-Cold War realities. During the January 1993 visit of Russian president Boris Yeltsin to India, the two countries signed agreements that signaled a new emphasis on economic cooperation in bilateral relations. The 1971 treaty was replaced with the new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which dropped security clauses that in the Cold War were directed against the United States and China. Yeltsin stated that Russia would deliver cryogenic engines and space technology for India's space program under a US$350 million deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Russian space agency, Glavkosmos, despite the imposition of sanctions on both organizations by the United States. In addition, Yeltsin expressed strong support for India's stand on Kashmir. A defense cooperation accord aimed at ensuring the continued supply of Russian arms and spare parts to satisfy the requirements of India's military and at promoting the joint production of defense equipment. Bilateral trade, which had fallen drastically during the 1990-92 period, was expected to revive following the resolution of the dispute over New Delhi's debt to Moscow and the May 1992 decision to abandon the 1978 rupee-ruble trade agreement in favor of the use of hard currency.

Pressure from the United States, which believed the engines and technology could be diverted to ballistic missile development, led the Russians to cancel most of the deal in July 1993. Russia did, however, supply rockets to help India to develop the technology to launch geostationary satellites, and, with cryogenic engine plans already in hand, the ISRO was determined to produce its own engines by 1997 (see Space and Nuclear Programs, ch. 10).

Despite Yeltsin's call for a realignment of Russia, India, and China to balance the West, Russia shares interests with the developed countries on nuclear proliferation issues. In November 1991, Moscow voted for a Pakistani-sponsored UN resolution calling for the establishment of a South Asian nuclear-free zone. Russia urged India to support the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and decided in March 1992 to apply "full-scope safeguards" to future nuclear supply agreements. Russia also shares interests with the United States in cooling antagonisms between India and Pakistan, particularly with regard to Kashmir, thus making it unlikely that India could count on Russia in a future dispute with Pakistan.

Rao reciprocated Yeltsin's visit in July 1994. The two leaders signed declarations assuring international and bilateral goodwill and continuation of Russian arms and military equipment exports to India. Rao's Moscow visit lacked the controversy that characterized his May 1994 visit to the United States and was deemed an important success because of the various accords, one of which restored the sale of cryogenic engines to India.

Bilateral relations between India and Russia improved as a result of eight agreements signed in December 1994. The agreements cover military and technical cooperation from 1995 to 2000, merchant shipping, and promotion and mutual protection of investments, trade, and outer space cooperation. Political observers saw the visit of Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that occasioned the signing of the eight agreements as a sign of a return to the earlier course of warm relations between New Delhi and Moscow. In March 1995, India and Russia signed agreements aimed at suppressing illegal weapons smuggling and drug trafficking. And when Russian nationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky visited India in March 1995, he declared that he would give India large supplies of arms and military hardware if he were elected president of Russia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress