Will The U.S. Elections 2020 Have An Impact On India-Russia Relations?

The impact of U.S. presidential elections will remain minimal specially on India’s relation with Moscow. Despite India’s defense diversification policy, defense cooperation will remain a key area of bilateral relations.

Among India’s strategic partners, Russia holds a special place. Relations between the two states are rooted in history, mutual trust, and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is a strategic partnership that has withstood the test of time, and which enjoys the support of the people of both countries. However, with the 2020 United States presidential elections over, it is worth looking into the implications of a Biden presidency on the dynamics of Indo-Russian relations. This article however argues that regardless of the change in the presidency in the US, the foundation of India-Russia relations will not be altered. Considering that there will be no drastic change, it is expected to witness a continuity in the overall partnership between the two states. 

Assessing the Dynamics of US-India-Russia Relations

It is no surprise that overall U.S.-Russia remain strained and underutilized. Looking at party politics, it is important to note that only 18% of Americans have a favorable impression of Russia, there are partisan divergences: only 35% of Republicans view Russia as a threat, as opposed to 65% of Democrats. However, both presidential candidates Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, have shown their interest to deepen bilateral cooperation with New Delhi. However, the challenge for India has been to balance its relations with both the U.S. and Russia.

In a changing world order, India has skillfully balanced both rival countries. On one side, the U.S. ranks as the largest trading partner of India, on the other, Moscow ranks as a top defense partner. Moreover, from a strategic perspective, India has managed to project that is indeed a master of independence by going ahead with the S-400 missile defense system deal. These contrasting perspectives towards Moscow between New Delhi and Washington — coming at a time of greater and closer India-U.S. ties — remains a challenge. However, the level of this challenges is often exaggerated.

Continuity in India-Russia Relations

Despite the turn towards Washington, a shared history and strategic considerations still play as key roles in sustaining the continuity of New Delhi’s relations with Moscow. India’s time-tested relations with Russia have been defined as special and privileged which play an instrumental role in defending India’s territorial integrity and strategic autonomy in world fora. 

Looking back, the former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev’s firmly stated that, “We are so near that if ever you call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side.” This quote still echoes significantly on both sides.

Over time, however, it is seen that Russia and India have taken slightly divergent stands amid the changing world order. A new emerging triangle China-Pakistan-Russia, the growing defense partnership between Moscow and Islamabad, and India’s emerging cooperation with the U.S. have promoted to adopt a nuanced bilateral engagement.

However, despite these nuances, India-Russia relations remains robust. India’s Ministry of External Affairs rightly noted that, “Our relations are based on equal trust and respect for each other’s core interests and sensitivities.” Moscow has established itself as a dependable partner of New Delhi throughout the changing landscapes of international politics. It can be safely said that Russia will not pursue any policy that will drag India into conflict. It can also be said that Russia will continue refraining from commenting on India’s internal issues.

Throughout President Trump’s administration, India had balanced both Washington and Moscow by claiming its strategic autonomy. Meanwhile, Moscow has emerged a key diplomatic player amid the border tension between China and India. Russian Ambassador Kudashev responded in a nuance manner that, “We welcome all steps aimed at de-escalation at the LAC, including the conversation between the two FMs, and remain optimistic.” Moreover, in 2017, India’s full membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was strongly supported by Moscow to counter the growing dominance of China in the organization. Underlining the ‘time-tested relation’ India’s Prime Minister Modi deeply applauded Moscow’s unflinching support for India’s security concern. 

The impact of U.S. presidential elections will remain minimal specially on India’s relation with Moscow. Despite India’s defense diversification policy, defense cooperation will remain a key area of bilateral relations with Russia. During 2014-2018, Moscow remained as the top defense supplier to India. The quintessence of defense cooperation manifested more visibly in the recent tussle in India’s territory. Like 1971, Moscow provided uninterrupted arms supply to meet the challenges given by China. The manufacturing of AK-47 203 rifles and bilateral deal on Kamov Ka-226T helicopter are the recent illustration of closer defense cooperation with Russia. Therefore, it is safe to say that India will pursue continuity with Moscow regardless of the US poll results.

Why Washington Should Accommodate India-Russia Relations

Despite the overall tension between the U.S. and Russia, Washington must continue to recalibrate its policy towards a more accommodating stance vis-à-vis India-Russia relations. The reason for this is quite straight forward. The current defining moment of the international system is the brewing power competition between the U.S. and China. As the latter is increasing its relative power, it is expected that it will act more assertively to maximize its share of world power. This does not bode well for the U.S. 

Moreover, it is well acknowledged that China is also a key strategic partner of Russia Based on the dictates of realpolitik if Russia-China relations continue to deepen, it will significantly alter the overall balance of power. If the U.S. pressures India to sacrifice its strategic relationship with Russia (as it did with Iran), it will be expected that Moscow will fall deeper into China’s influence. This scenario is something the U.S. and India will not want. It would be in Washington’s best interest to have Russia deepen relations with a fellow democracy than to have it fall deep into China’s influence.

Dr. Sandeep Tripathi is an Assistant Professor and Head of the Centre for International Politics and Law at ILSR, GLA University, Mathura, India

Don McLain Gill is an international affairs researcher and author based in the Philippines. He is currently completing his master’s in International Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. 


Around The World