India’s Quid Pro Quo Ties With Russia: A Wake-up Call for the US

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi

Indian foreign policy since its creation has been tilted towards the eastern bloc. During the Cold War era, the soviet union was the major ally of India at that time. India was also immensely dependent on the soviet union at that time. India has more ‘divergences’ of interests than ‘convergences’ with the US. Its megalomaniac attitude – considering itself a power of its own & maintaining autonomy in its foreign policy, rendering it an unreliable ally of the US. Hence it has not yet molded its foreign policy to the desire of the US. It has been adopting a neutral stance on Russia-Ukraine Conflict. India would not align its policy to match that of the US in the region as long as its civil/ military needs are satisfactorily met by Russia. India has also isolated America and the West in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War by Importing oil (1.6 mn bpd with 10% inc from Dec last year) from Russia despite sanctions thereby meeting over 27% of its total oil import needs from Russia. India is abstaining from various procedural votes relating to the conflict. Russia has a history of using its veto power to help India against various resolutions brought by the US & West on IIOJK, India’s invasion of Goa & 1971 war with Pakistan. 

As a quid pro quo, India abstained from voting to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968), Afghanistan (1979), and Russian actions in Chechnya, etc. India purchased S-400 anti-missile defense system from Russia and courted US ire despite the USA warning of CATSAA. This shows India is closer to Russia than to the US. India imported arms worth $13 billion from Russia during the last five years. Russia accounted for over 45% of total arms export (b/w 2018 to 2022) to India. Both countries are on the path to carrying out bilateral trade using the Rouble/ Indian rupee instead of the dollar. Sino-Russia moved closer to each other, particularly in post- Russia-Ukraine war. In recent years, by maintaining good relations with countries hostile to each other, India’s foreign policy has demonstrated that by and large, it is possible to have your cake and eat it too. When it has engaged with countries with which the West disagrees, such as Iran, it has received a pass. India may review its relations with Russia if the latter under the influence of China thins its relations with India but that is most unlikely to happen. India is ambitious in domestic economic development. China is not its small trading partner but is potentially a larger source of investment than the West. This speaks volumes to drive a belief that India won’t become an ally of the US. India is also maintaining close trade and economic contacts with Iran & its investment in Chabahar port reveals much about the two countries’ importance to each other.

India has been pursuing ‘protectionist economic policies that have an impact on US businesses. For example, India has imposed high tariffs on US goods to the benefit of its farmers with a negative impact on US farmers.  Indian Social and Liberal Values are against US values. One of the divergences is embedded in national identities both India and the U.S. see themselves as “exceptional” but do not view the other as such. US Freedom House and State Department’s Annual Reports on serious human rights violations in India are seen by India as planted to coerce it to follow the US.

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reacting against the recent report of Freedom House rebuked Western critics for a veiled speech against the US. India’s external affairs minister Jaishakar has recently publicly admitted that China is the bigger economy and India cannot fight against it. As for Quad, India is yet to evince a determination to counter China as desired by the US.  This is more true given Jaishankar’s statement mentioned above.  The line of Actual Control conflict shows  Indian weakness to contain China. Given India’s inescapable defense collaboration with Russia, the US suspects espionage and technical theft by Russian technicians if the US provides defense equipment to India. India’s membership of the Quad can not be taken as evidence that it is on some linear path to becoming part of a Western axis. US policy of pivoting to Asia and Asia re-balance is being perceived by India as a tool to use India as a proxy to assert its global dominance in the South China Sea. Hence, India has been hesitant to entirely bank upon the US for its security issues and needs instead preferring to maintain its independent strategic vision. India could not get signed a ‘Joint Declaration’ from G-20 participants (ministerial meeting) mainly due to its controversial stance on the Russia-Ukraine war.  India does not want G-20 nations to discuss additional sanctions on Russia.

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