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Why India is Playing its cards very safely during Russia-Ukraine Conflict

From morning till night, from New York to New Delhi, one channel to another, there is only one news which is being discussed on the coffee table. Russia’s “Special Military Operations” to “Demilitarize” ex-soviet republic Ukraine.

As Russia launches its operation, the world gets divided into 3 groups.

The first group comprising of the USA and its NATO allies who didn’t help Ukraine before the launch of Russian operations are now blaming Russia and imposing sanctions on her.

The second group comprised of Russian Allies like China, Syria, and others are opposing the sanctions imposed by the USA and its allies.

The Third group like India and UAE has taken a middle path of silence.

India’s silence has raised eyebrows to its Quad allies especially the USA, who is asking India to release more strong statements criticizing Russia.

To get the answer that Why India refrained from giving any strong statements on Russia, we need to dig a little deep into the relations India holds with both Russia and Ukraine


India-Ukraine Relations

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine came into existence. India was one of the first countries to recognize this newly born country. The government of India recognized the Republic of Ukraine as a sovereign country in December 1991 and established diplomatic relations in January 1992.

The Embassy of India in Kyiv was opened in May 1992. India too had a Consulate in Odessa, which functioned from 1962 till its closure in March 1999. Ukraine opened its Mission in Delhi in February 1993 and it was Ukraine’s first embassy in Asia.

Since then, there has been a regular exchange of high-level visits between India and Ukraine. Most recent visits include the State visit of H.E. President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2005 And the State visit of H.E. President Viktor Yanukovych to India in December 2012.

Ukraine has a population of over 40 million and an area of about 600,000 sq km. It makes Ukraine one of the largest countries in Europe.

Commerce and Trade Relations

India has an extensive bilateral relationship with Ukraine, spanning many spheres of cooperation.

Bilateral trade between the two countries has grown significantly in the last 25 years. In 2018-19, trade stands at almost US$ 2.8 Billion.

India is Ukraine’s largest export destination in the Asia-Pacific and the fifth largest overall export destination. Main items of export from Ukraine to India are agricultural products, metallurgical products, plastics and polymers, etc.

The major Indian exports to Ukraine include pharmaceuticals, machinery, chemicals, food products, etc. are. A number of Indian companies like Ranbaxy, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Sun Group etc. have their representative offices in Ukraine. Representatives of major pharmaceutical companies have also set up an ‘Indian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association in Ukraine.

Cultural Relations

There is a great interest in Indian culture in Ukraine at the public level, covering various aspects such as dances, yoga, philosophy, Ayurveda, and spirituality. There are more than 30 Ukrainian cultural associations/groups spread across the country, engaged in promoting Indian art forms, and in particular, Indian dances. The Embassy of India in Kyiv organized a nationwide ‘Festival of India’ in 2017, which displayed the richness and diversity of Indian culture through performances by various music, dance groups, and artists from India[1].

India–Russia Relations 


A glimpse of Historical relations

Goods uncovered from an archaeological site such as Pazyryk indicate that nomads inhabiting the area conducted trading activities with India during the 4th-3rd century BCE In 1468, Russian traveler Afanasy Nikitin began his journey to India. Between 1468 and 1472, he traveled through Persia, India, and the Ottoman Empire. The documentation of his experiences during this journey is compiled in the book “The Journey Beyond Three Seas”. In the 18th century the Russian cities Astrakhan, Moscow, and St. Petersburg were frequently visited by Indian merchants. Russia was used as a transit trade between Western Europe and India

Present Day Relation

During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union (USSR) had a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited its close relationship with India which resulted in both nations sharing a special relationship.

Bilateral ties with Russia have always been a key pillar of India’s foreign policy. India sees Russia as a longstanding and time-tested friend that has played a significant role in its economic development and security.

Russia and India both term this relationship as a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership“.

Since the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 during the visit of President Vladimir Putin to India, India-Russia ties have acquired a qualitatively new character with enhanced levels of cooperation taking place in almost all areas of the bilateral relationship including political, security, trade and economy, defense, science and technology, and culture.

Under the Declaration of Strategic Partnership, several institutionalized dialogue mechanisms have been put in place that operates at the political and official levels and ensure regular interaction and follow-up on cooperation activities. During the visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to India in December 2010, it was decided to further elevate the strategic partnership to the level of a “Special and privileged Strategic Partnership”. The 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Russia was celebrated on 13 April 2012[2].

Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on six major components: Politics, Economics, Defense, Civil Nuclear Energy, Anti-Terrorism, Cooperation, and Space.


Russia currently is one of only two countries in the world and the other is Japan that has a mechanism for annual ministerial-level defense reviews with India. [1] The Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC) is one of the largest and most comprehensive governmental mechanisms that India has had with any country internationally. Almost every department from the Government of India attends it.

Military Cooperation

Russia 68%, USA 14%, and Israel 7.2% are the major arms suppliers to India, and India and Russia have deepened their Make in India defense manufacturing cooperation by signing agreements for the construction of the below military hardware: –

  • BrahMos cruise missile program
  • 5th generation fighter jet program
  • Sukhoi Su-30MKI program (230+ to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics)
  • Ilyushin/HAL Tactical Transport Aircraft
  • KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters
  • Numerous Naval frigates

Economic Relations

Bilateral trade between both countries is concentrated in key-value chain sectors. These sectors include highly diversified segments such as machinery, electronics, aerospace, automobile, commercial shipping, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, apparel, precious stones, industrial metals, petroleum products, coal, high-end tea, and coffee products.

Energy Sector

The energy sector is an important area in Indo-Russian bilateral relations. In December 2008, Russia and India signed an agreement to build civilian nuclear reactors in India during a visit by the Russian president to New Delhi.

Space Cooperation

There has been a long history of cooperation between the Soviet Union and India in space. Examples include Aryabhata it was India’s first satellite, named after an Indian astronomer.

In November 2007, the two countries have signed an agreement on joint lunar exploration. These space cooperation programs are under implementation.

Chandrayaan-2 was a joint lunar exploration mission proposed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) and had a projected cost of ₹4.25 billion (US$90 million).

Science And Technology

The ongoing collaboration in the field of science & technology, under the Integrated Long-Term Programme of Co-operation (ILTP), is the largest co-operation program in this sphere for both India and Russia. ILTP is coordinated by the Department of Science and Technology from the Indian side and by the Academy of Sciences, Ministry of Science and Education, and Ministry of Industry and Trade from the Russian side. Development of SARAS Duet aircraft, semiconductor products, supercomputers, poly-vaccines, laser science and technology, seismology, high-purity materials, software & IT, and Ayurveda have been some of the priority areas of co-operation under the ILTP. Under this program, eight joint Indo-Russian centers have been established to focus on joint research and development work.

North-South Transport Corridor

The North-South Transport Corridor is the ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe, and Central Asia. The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia via ship, rail, and road. The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali, etc

Cultural Cooperation

Russia and India share broad cultural cooperation since time immemorable. Astrakhan in Russia has historically been a trading center for Indian merchants since the 16th century.  In 1722 Peter the Great met with Anbu-Ram the leader of the Indian merchants in Astrakhan. In the meeting Peter the Great agreed to Anbu-Ram’s request for full free trade including transit rights.

The first Russian translation of the Bhagavad Gita was published in 1788 by decree on the orders of Catherine the Great. Russian pioneers who traveled to India and studied Indian culture include Gerasim Lebedev who studied ancient Indian languages in the 1780s and later Nicholas Roerich who studied Indian philosophy. Roerich was influenced by the philosophy of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, and the Bhagavad Gita.

Several generations of Russians grew up watching subtitled Indian films (mainly Bollywood) and vice versa for Indians watching Russian films. Popular Indian films in the USSR included Awara, Bobby, Barood, Mamta, and Disco Dancer.

Russia’s Rossotrudnichestvo Representative Office (RRO) established in 1965 has five Russian Centres of Science and Culture (RCSC) in India they include New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Trivandrum. Yoga in Russia has been growing and becoming increasingly popular since the 1980s.

On 7 November 2009, India signed a new nuclear deal with Russia apart from the deals that were agreed upon by the two countries earlier. India and Russia are in discussion for the construction of two more nuclear power units at Kudankulam. Two units of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant are already operational.

The 130th birth anniversary of Nicholas Roerich and the 100th birth anniversary of Svetoslav Roerich were celebrated in India in October 2004.

Bilateral trade in 2002 stood at $1.5 billion and increased by over 7 times to $11 billion in 2012 and with both governments setting a bilateral trade target of $30 billion by 2025.

India and Russia have set a target of US$30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025, from about US$ 10 billion in the year 2017.


As India’s bilateral relation with Russia goes back to time immemorable and has improved and strengthened phenomenal more in the last 2 decades, both countries see them beyond deep friendship and mutual trust that would not be affected by transient political turmoil.

Once Indian President Pranab Mukherjee has commented about India’s relations with Russia

…India-Russia relationship is one of deep friendship and mutual confidence that would not be affected by transient political trends. Russia has been a pillar of strength at difficult moments in India’s history. India will always reciprocate this support. Russia is and will remain our most important defense partner and a key partner for our energy security, both on nuclear energy and hydrocarbons…


[1] India_Ukraine_July_2020.pdf (

[2] Russia_-DEC_2012.pdf (

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Ankush Bhandari

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