Russia and India are not allies. But they are close partners

Updated on Oct 06, 2021 08:00 PM IST

It is necessary to broaden contacts between political, business, social and cultural circles, and to increase the number of bilateral expert events

For all the external dissimilarities between Russia and India, they face a number of similar tasks (Getty Images) PREMIUM
For all the external dissimilarities between Russia and India, they face a number of similar tasks (Getty Images)
ByGleb Ivashentsov

Russia and India are friends and partners. Not only do the two peoples have common roots, even their languages do. The Russian words for “mother”, “brother”, “fire”, “light”, even “brother-in-law” and “father-in-law” sound almost the same in Sanskrit.

Russians never came to India as conquerors. The images of distant fabulous India inspired Russian thinkers, poets, composers, and artists. The influence of cultures was mutual — the enormous spiritual influence that Leo Tolstoy had on the formation of the views of Mahatma Gandhi is well known.

During the Soviet era, relations between the two countries were close to being that of allies. However, radical changes, both in Russia and India, brought new nuances and accents to these relations. Ritual toasts in the spirit of “bhai-bhaism” have been replaced by strategic partnership and sound pragmatism.

For all the external dissimilarities between Russia and India, they face a number of similar tasks. One of them is the need to ensure internal harmony within multi-ethnic and multi-confessional States — especially with adherents of Islam, the second largest confessional community in both countries. The long-standing involvement of Russia and India in Islamic history predetermines their special place in solving the most pressing issues of concern to the Islamic world today.

The Russia-India interaction in global politics is supplemented by sound joint projects in strategic areas such as energy, including nuclear, military-technological cooperation and peaceful space exploration.

However, this is a partnership, not an alliance. India is self-sufficient in the global arena, and its aspirations in one particular case or another may not coincide with the aspirations of Russia, just as, say, with the aspirations of the United States (US) or China. The same applies to Russia. This means that the interests of Russia and India will not be always and inescapably identical.

It is quite natural, for example, that the content of India’s relations with Pakistan differs from what Russia sees as essential for itself vis a vis Pakistan, and the specificity of the Russian-Ukrainian relations does not affect India’s direct interests. The main thing is that neither Russia nor India have ever pursued, in key regions for a partner State, a policy that would harm the geopolitical interests of the other side.

At the same time, in recent years, Russian and Indian media analysis and expert studies have been influenced by a certain “interpretation” of events spread from outside. This distorts the motives of the behaviour of the two countries towards each other in the international arena. There are examples of Russia in the Indian press and expert speeches being referred to as becoming a “Chinese vassal” and almost fraternising with the Pakistani military, while Russian media and experts accuse India of willingly accepting the role of a junior US partner in Asian affairs.

This cannot but have a negative impact on public circles in both countries. Annual meetings of the top leaders of States are not enough to remove it. It should be about strengthening mutual understanding at the level of elites and expert communities. It is necessary to broaden contacts between political, business, social and cultural circles, and to increase the number of bilateral expert events.

Expanding media exchanges is of particular importance. Russian and Indian television viewers and newspaper readers should look at the relationship of the especially privileged partners, not through the lens of CNN or BBC, but through their national media. And this is not yet available. While correspondents from Russian television and three news agencies are accredited in India, there is not a single Indian correspondent in Russia compared to 23 American, 14 British, 16 Japanese, 13 Chinese, five Turkish and even three Pakistani correspondents.

Working with young people is important, and for this, it is worth recreating the system of exchanges for students and schoolchildren, and introducing quotas for studying at universities, not only for Indian students in Russia, but also for Russian students in India. We should extensively expand cultural ties and talk not only of Roerich’s heritage (the Russian painter, writer and philosopher, Nicholas Roerich, had a deep and extensive engagement with India and died in Himachal Pradesh), which is very distant from mass consciousness, but above all, deepen exchanges in the field of mass culture, and pop music.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Indian cinema played a remarkable role in the rapprochement between the two peoples. The prominent Indian diplomat TN Kaul recalled how, when he was appointed India’s ambassador to Moscow in 1962, Prime Minister (PM) Jawaharlal Nehru asked him which three Indian names, in his opinion, were best known in the USSR. Kaul suggested that it could be Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jawaharlal Nehru. To this, PM Nehru replied: “You are wrong. These are Raj Kapoor, Nargis and Nehru. And in that very order.”

Gleb Ivashentsov has served as Russia’s consul-general in Mumbai, director of the Russian foreign ministry responsible for South and South West Asia, and ambassador to Myanmar and South Korea. He is currently vice-president of the Russian International Affairs Council, Moscow and has authored a book on India

The views expressed are personal

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