Modi 3.0
Deepening India-Russia Relations to the 'Next Level’ of Strategic Partnership
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Hriday Ch. Sarma

Indian lawyer and an independent researcher working on energy affairs in Greater Eurasia

Latest Victory for Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third term in office marks a significant milestone in India’s political landscape. With a decisive electoral victory, supported by coalition partners from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bhratiya Janata Party have cemented their position as dominant political forces, poised to shape India’s strategic priorities in the years ahead. One key area likely to receive renewed focus is the time-tested ‘India-Russia relationship’ and how it’s elevated to the next level of strategic partnership under fast-changing global dynamics.

Narendra Modi’s third-term victory is historic, matching independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s record as the only prime minister to return for three consecutive terms. This Modi 3.0 administration includes a mix of continuity and change, with key figures like Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, and Dr. S. Jaishankar retaining their important portfolios of defense, home, and foreign affairs respectively.

Heads of seven states attended the oath-taking event as part of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy. The attendees included Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, Seychelles Vice-President Ahmed Afif, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, and Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. They attended the ceremonial banquet hosted by President Droupadi Murmu and met with Mr. Modi on the evening of Sunday, May 8th, 2024.  

Additionally, 50 leaders from across the world, including Putin in a personal telephonic call, congratulated Modi, affirming the leader’s global recognition and admiration, as well as India’s growing role in international affairs.


Implications for India-Russia Relations

India-Russia relations have been a constant in global politics, characterized by mutual respect and strategic cooperation across defense, energy, and technological domains. Dr. S. Jaishankar, a pivotal figure in Modi’s cabinet holding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has consistently underscored the strength of this partnership. During an event in Moscow in December last year, Jaishankar emphasized that «while there have been ups and downs in relationships between all countries, the only constant in global politics has been the ties between India and Russia.» He also stressed that in the fields of defense, space, and nuclear energy, countries only cooperate with those with whom they have a «high degree» of trust.

This longstanding bilateral partnership extends to critical areas such as defense, space, and nuclear energy, where trust and shared interests have been the foundation. Jaishankar’s unwavering advocacy for the India-Russia relationship has been crucial, even as India has had to navigate the increasing pressure from the United States and other Western powers over its energy ties with Russia amidst the Ukraine conflict.

Despite these external pressures, India has maintained a position of strategic autonomy, emphasizing the pragmatic aspects of its foreign policy choices[1]. Moreover, India and Russia have deepened their strategic cooperation in the energy-rich Arctic region, with the two countries now deliberating at an advanced stage of facilitating Indian investments in joint development the “Vostok Oil” project, a major oil and gas venture in the Russian Arctic. This cooperation in the Arctic not only strengthens India’s energy security but also cements the strong political and scientific ties between the two nations.

Amidst these developments, year-round navigation in the eastern sector of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is slated to commence by the end of 2024, projecting cargo traffic to surpass 150 million tons by 2030 and exceed 200 million tons by 2035, thus significantly enhancing the route’s global trade significance. India cannot afford to miss out on becoming a stakeholder partner in driving up the corridor, especially as China, the other Asian superpower, intensifies collaboration with Russia to expand shipping operations and build new ice-class container ships along the NSR. This urgency aligns with India’s ongoing need for an icebreaker to support its polar scientific research stations in the Arctic.

Russia Building a New Energy World Order
Hriday Ch. Sarma
Russia’s trajectory towards establishing a BRICS plus Africa Energy Order underlines its strategic pivot towards the development of a new global energy order, mainly by encompassing the fast-developing and developing nations worldwide.


Impact of Western Political Pressures

India’s robust relationship with Russia has often been scrutinized under the magnifying glass of Western political pressures, particularly from the United States. Throughout the Ukraine conflict, India has maintained a position of strategic neutrality, balancing its long-standing ties with Russia against the diplomatic signals from the West. Despite criticisms, India has unceasingly continued to engage in significant trade with Russia, thereby emphasizing the pragmatic aspects of its foreign policy. Dr. Jaishankar has been vociferous in advocating for India’s independent foreign policy choices, regardless of external pressures, including on its energy ties with Russia. Modi reinforced this by stating that if India needs oil from Russia, the Indian government will acquire it, and it will not conceal that. He even openly asserted that the India-Russia relationship remains «special and privileged,» a bond he vowed to develop further when congratulating Putin on his re-election as Russia’s President in March this year.

The two countries could expeditiously innovate new trade mechanisms to navigate and strengthen their economic ties when external circumstances became overwhelming. The accumulation of rupees in Indian banks amounting up to millions of dollars, highlighted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in May 2023, posed a challenge that has since been addressed through strategic investments in Indian stocks and infrastructure projects. This approach mitigates financial challenges and underscores the resilience of their bilateral relations. By utilizing Special Rupee Vostro Accounts (SRVAs) for trade settlements and investments, both nations have effectively diversified their economic engagements beyond traditional currency exchanges. These measures not only enhance economic cooperation but also bolster mutual trust and strategic collaboration in critical sectors like energy and defense.


Future Prospects

Looking forward, the Modi administration is set on leveraging its strategic autonomy to further strengthen as well as deepen India-Russia relations. The recent discussions and exchange of official communiqués between Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on jointly producing military equipment mark a significant step towards enhancing defense cooperation. This joint development in military technology, although agreed upon, has not been executed yet. Upon getting realized, which could now happen soon with the return of the Modi government, it will clearly align with India’s indigenization goals and add depth to its strategic partnership with Russia, while providing Russia with a reliable market and opportunities for interoperable collaboration in advanced defense technologies.

Moreover, India’s pursuit of «strategic autonomy,» somewhat akin to that of France, underlines a broader global strategy to balance great power politics without becoming overly dependent on any single ally. Modi’s new administration will now aim to navigate these complexities by fostering diverse international ties while retaining the flexibility to enhance its bilateral relationships with pivotal players like Russia.

Moving forward, Modi’s third term promises a reinforced and strategically nuanced approach to India-Russia relations. The administration’s focus on high-trust areas such as defense, space, and nuclear energy, coupled with its resilience against external pressures, establishes an interdependent and enduring framework for future bilateral cooperation. In the backdrop of global conflict scenarios (such as the ensuing Israel-Palestine war, etc.) and the quest for a multipolar world, India’s astute navigation of its relationships, particularly with Russia, solidifies its position as a key player in shaping the future trajectory of international dynamics, while enabling Russia to strengthen its geopolitical standing in the evolving multipolar global and regional order.

Same Same, but Different: Strategic Relations in the Russia-India-China-U.S. Quadrangle
Gleb G. Makarevich
Russia must realize that the Indian political elites are expanding their contacts with the Americans not because of the “pressure from Washington,” but because, in their opinion, cooperation with the U.S. is in New Delhi’s national interests. At the same time, Moscow has the right to expect New Delhi to show a similar attitude towards the Russian-Chinese “relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction of a new era.”


[1] Russia and India’s strategic autonomy. (2023, January). SEMINAR (NEW DELHI), (761), 37-40.