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India-Russia partnership and pact for military cooperation


21st annual India-Russia summit meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and Russian President is a strong step towards expanding India’s engagement envelope with Russia.

Russian and Indian Foreign and Defence Ministers also took part in the first “2+2” ministerial meeting between India and Russia held ahead of the annual summit.


GS-II: International Relations (Foreign Policies and Agreements affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of the 21st annual India-Russia summit
  2. RELOS Pact between India and Russia
    1. Why is the RELOS pact being pursued?
    2. What is entailed as part of a RELOS agreement?
    3. What is the strategic significance of a RELOS agreement?
  3. Highlights of the “2+2” ministerial meeting between India and Russia
  4. India–Russia relations

Highlights of the 21st annual India-Russia summit

  • The Indian Prime Minister noted how despite the several geopolitical changes having taken place in the world, the India-Russia friendship had remained unchanged and had stood the test of time.
  • The two countries despite having built robust relationships with other countries (often at differences with the other) have continued to not only cooperate with each other but have also paid the necessary attention to each other’s sensitivities.
  • The Russian President referred to the common fight against organised crime, drug trafficking and terrorism.
  • The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the sustained progress in the ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ between both countries.
  • The leaders underscored the need for greater economic cooperation and called for long term predictable and sustained economic cooperation.
  • The two leaders emphasized the importance of connectivity projects like the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the proposed Chennai – Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor.
  • The two leaders have called for greater inter-regional cooperation between various regions of Russia, in particular with the Russian Far East, with the States of India.
  • Important Government-to-Government Agreements and MoUs, as well as those between commercial and other organizations of both countries, were signed in different sectors such as trade, energy, science & technology, intellectual property, outer space, geological exploration, cultural exchange, education, etc. Both sides concluded around 28 agreements with most of them in the defence and energy domains.
  • India and Russia have renewed the military-technical cooperation agreement until 2031 and also signed the deal for the manufacture of AK-203 assault rifles in India.
  • A bilateral logistics support deal, Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS), as well as a Navy-to-Navy cooperation MoU were also on the agenda.
  • The Joint Statement titled India-Russia: Partnership for Peace, Progress and Prosperity was released.

RELOS Pact between India and Russia

Why is the RELOS pact being pursued?

  • Despite growing engagement with the US on military hardware and tech, Russia remains a partner with whom India has shared traditionally deep defence ties.
  • Russia’s growing proximity to China and Pakistan has of late been seen as casting a shadow on the Moscow-New Delhi engagement, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2021 visit is said by experts to be part of a push to augment cooperation between the two countries.
  • To that extent, RELOS will be an important step forward in the military sphere as it aims at fostering interoperability and sharing of logistics. The “long overdue” agreement was to have come up for signing in 2019 but that was put off pending finalisation of its terms.
  • The agreement has been described as being part of a broader arrangement that will allow the two countries to scale up their military-to-military cooperation. A report by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) says that “these agreements go a long way in expanding India’s military reach, especially maritime outreach and influence in various regions that are strategically important to India”.

What is entailed as part of a RELOS agreement?

  • Logistical exchange agreements are designed to lay down the administrative framework through which partnering countries can enjoy ease of access to use each other’s military facilities like ports, bases, and military installations.
  • As ORF notes, such agreements save “enormous time” and also frees up the need for constant paperwork when one military obtains assistance on matters like refuelling, berthing, use of aviation infrastructure, etc., allowing for a rolling settlement of costs and fees.
  • “Military logistics… facilitate replenishment of fuel, rations, and spare parts, as well as berthing and maintenance for each other’s warships, military aircraft, and troops during port visits and joint exercises, on a reciprocal basis,” ORF points out.

What is the strategic significance of a RELOS agreement?

  • Experts note that it is usually the Indian Navy, “the most outgoing force of the three services”, that stands to benefit the most from an logistical exchange agreement as these impart “enhanced operational turnaround and strengthened interoperability… on the high seas” by relying on the infrastructure and assistance of partner countries.
  • Given the close Indo-Russian military ties and “the percentage of Russian military hardware in the Indian armed forces” means that the two sides can take advantage, through RELOS, of increased interoperability “in any hostile situation in the future”.
  • India has acquired advance defence systems from Russia, including fighter jets, and is looking to again obtain a nuclear-powered attack submarine on a long-term lease from Moscow.
  • The reciprocal arrangement means that Russian naval ships and aircraft will be also to access Indian ports and bases.

Highlights of the “2+2” ministerial meeting between India and Russia

  • During the 2+2 ministerial meeting, the Indian defence minister highlighted the emerging security challenges confronting India like “unprovoked aggression” on its northern borders from China along with the increasing militarisation and expansion of armament in the region. In this regard, the Indian Defence Minister called for closer military-to-military technical collaboration with Russia.
  • The Indian Defence Minister sought greater engagement between the two countries in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean Region.
  • The Russian counterpart stated that security agencies from both countries would collaborate with each other to increase “regional trust and global security”.
  • The Indian Foreign Minister, noting the time tested nature of the India – Russia bilateral relationship, called for deepening of this relationship amid the turmoil in the geopolitical environment, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Indian Foreign Minister called for multipolarity in world affairs.
  • The Russian Foreign Minister pointed out the commonalities between Indian and Russian positions on international issues.

India–Russia relations

  • During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union (USSR) had a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship and after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited its close relationship with India.
  • Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space – and in recent years a sixth, economic component has grown in importance, with both countries setting a target of reaching US$30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025.
  • Both countries are members of many international bodies like UN, BRICS, G20 and SCO where they collaborate closely on matters of shared national interest.
  • Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
  • India is the second largest market for the Russian defence industry and Russia the chief supplier of defence equipment for India (Russia almost 70%, USA around 15% and Israel around 8% as of 2016).
  • India and Russia have deepened their Make in India defence manufacturing cooperation by signing agreements for the construction (including Joint Ventures) of naval frigates, KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters, Brahmos cruise missile.
  • The defence co-operation is not limited to a buyer-seller relationship but includes joint research and development, training, service to service contacts, including joint exercises
  • Both India and Russia have jointly developed an economic strategy that involves using a number of economic components to increase future bilateral trade – which include:
    • development of an FTA between India & the EEU,
    • a bilateral treaty on the promotion and protection of investments,
    • a new economic planning mechanism built into IRIGC,
    • simplification of customs procedures,
    • new long-term agreements in the expansion of energy trade including nuclear, oil and gas
    • long term supplier contracts in key sectors such as oil, gas and rough diamonds etc.
  • Major commodities exported from Russia to India are: Gems & precious metals, Machines & engines, Electronic equipment, Fertilizers, Medical & technical equipment, Oil etc.
  • Major commodities exported from India to Russia are: Pharmaceuticals, Electronic equipment, Iron and steel, Clothing, Coffee, tea and spices, Tobacco etc.
  • Historically, there has been a long history of cooperation between the Soviet Union and India in space. Examples include Aryabhata (India’s first satellite), Rakesh Sharma (First Indian to visit space) as a part of Interkosmos space program.
  • Energy sector is an important area in Indo-Russian bilateral relations.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023