By 2016, Russia found itself in a completely new foreign policy reality. Both external and internal factors have brought the country into a difficult economic situation, and negative trends in Russia’s relations with the West have defined the task of qualitatively diversifying external ties. The main focus of this re-orientation is on Russia’s strategic partners in Asia, above all China. As Russia’s new Asian policy takes on greater conceptual depth, new outlines of Russia’s interaction with Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries also take shape. And it is only with regard to India that comparable foreign policy steps have not been taken.
Meanwhile, India itself has entered a period of active change. In 2014, Narendra Modi, a modern and ambitious politician, became India’s Prime Minister. His programme entails enhancing India’s role in international affairs, initiating a new stage in economic modernization, making innovations a priority in manufacturing, developing the country’s infrastructure, and improving the quality of life. This new stage in India’s development requires a new approach on Russia’s part.
The level of strategic partnership provides the necessary basis for a new quality of Russia-India relations. Over the last 15 years, much has been done to strengthen these ties. The trade turnover between the two countries has grown sixfold, large-scale military-technical projects are being implemented, natural resources are being developed jointly, and the number of academic programmes and educational exchanges is growing. Russia and India have virtually identical positions on the most pressing regional and international problems and they efficiently coordinate the steps they take on influential international platforms, including new platforms such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Still, to achieve substantial progress in bilateral relations it is necessary to renew the strategic paradigm of these relations. Forming the portfolio of cooperation projects on the basis of the economic renewal needs of Russia and India makes a qualitative leap possible. Joint initiatives should develop the global competitive edge of both countries and solve the tasks of transitioning to new development models. The cooperation mechanisms themselves must be revised in order to become more adaptive. The ultimate goal of this revision is to make Russia–India relations independent of the states’ ties with third countries and impervious to crises and changes in global circumstances.
Before such a transition takes place, a whole series of systemic barriers that currently impede bilateral relations must be overcome. These barriers include: an imperfect legal framework; tariff and non-tariff trade limitations that still exist between the two countries; the lack of up-to-date information on political processes in both countries; the low level of business contacts; and the outdated images of both Russia and India their citizens have. In order to solve these tasks, it is necessary to expand the number of participants in alignment between Russia and India, which should involve experts, businessmen, journalists and the professional community. At the same time, only the state can initiate and coordinate such contacts, since developing bilateral relations is ultimately a strategic and political task.
The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) has been involved in researching the interaction between the two countries since 2012, forming development suggestions as part of the “Russia and India: Toward a New Bilateral Agenda” project. Russian and Indian politicians and experts participating in seminars, expert meetings and consultations regularly discuss a whole range of issues: from security in the Indo-Pacific to the joint fight against the Islamic State (IS) to the developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia and the role of multilateral institutions in cooperation between the two countries. The Paper analyses not only bilateral relations between Russia and India, but also India’s development, its role in the global world and its foreign policy strategy, because Russia today also faces the goal of modernizing economy and increasing its role in international affairs.
The Working Paper presents the results of Russian and international discussions as assessments, suggestions, and recommendations. We believe that these ideas may prompt experts and decision-makers in Russia and India to open up a new discussion on the prospects of relations between the two countries and the steps necessary for their development.