Ahead of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit, India has cleared the long-pending AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles deal worth nearly Rs 5,000 crore for production of over five lakh such rifles in Amethi by an Indo-Russian joint venture

New Delhi: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India, his second only physical visit to a foreign nation since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, is being watched by the world due to its geopolitical relevance. This is India’s first major top-level engagement with Russia after it signed up as a QUAD member with America, Australia and Japan to contain the rise of China in Indo-Pacific.

Russian President Vladimir Putin upon reaching New Delhi on Monday said that Russia considers India 'a great power' and a 'time tested' friend. "The relations between our nations are growing and I am looking into the future," Putin added while further asserting his happiness at being in India.

Putin is set to amplify Russian efforts to enhance its defence and energy ties with India, its traditional ally that has gone closer to the US in recent years as an attempt to diversify its defence imports among other major factors. India, however, has had a historical relationship with Russia, spanning over more than seven decades. New Delhi calls its relationship with Moscow as a “special and privileged strategic partnership”.

While in last couple of decades, India’s geopolitical outlook in the wake of its maintenance of “strategic autonomy” has taken it closer to the countries such as France, Sweden and the US, Russia continues to be immensely relevant for India in Defence purchases.

Why Russia is important for India and Indian defence?

Credible defence estimates say that close to 70 per cent of India’s supplies of defence equipment comes from Russia. At the same time, given the track record of quality of Russian defence products, India in 2018 had signed $5 billion-deal for S-400 ground-to-air missile defence system. The deliveries of S-400 have reportedly begun despite American threat of sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), aimed at containing Russian rise by the US.

Ahead of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit, India has cleared the long-pending AK 203 Kalashnikov rifles deal worth nearly Rs 5,000 crore for production of over five lakh such rifles in Amethi by an Indo-Russian joint venture.

Does Russia support India’s position on Kashmir?

Yes, and that too vocally. Over seven decades ago, Nikita Khrushchev, the Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, declared Kashmir to be an integral part of India in his visit to Srinagar on December 10, 1955.

He further stated, "We are so near that if ever you call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side." Apart from standing by India in the United Nations by vetoing for India’s interests time and again, Russia also supported India on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir by citing it an “internal and domestic” issue.

India in recent past has also supported Russia in its incorporation of Crimea, saying “Russia has legitimate interests in Crimea.”

Russia in 2012 publicly supported India’s effort to receive a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). “We view India as a real and strong candidate for full UN membership,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said in 2012.

Prior to the fall of USSR and formation in Russia in 1990 that marked the end of Cold War between the US and USSR, Soviet Union was strong supporter of Indian stance of strategic autonomy.

In a significant deviation from its policy of non-alignment, India signed Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, with Soviet Union in August 1971 which specified the level of mutual cooperation between India and the USSR up until latter’s fall.

The treaty is considered by diplomacy experts as among the ‘most significant documents’ signed by India since independence, as the USSR came to India’s support in December 1971 Indo-Pak war by dispatching the naval units from Soviet Pacific fleet in response to the US president Richard Nixon’s decision to deploy US aircraft carrier ‘Enterprise’ in the Indian Ocean to aide Pakistan’s war efforts.

The treaty thus played a significant role in preventing the US naval support to reach for Pakistan’s aide during 1971 Indo-Pak war which finally resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh. Following the dissolution of USSR, the treaty was replaced by the treaty of Indo-Russian Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993.

India’s arrival in the global space race was led by Russian support as well. On April 19, 1975, India launched its first space satellite Aryabhata from a site in USSR's Astrakhan region. Indian military pilot Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, flew on board Soyuz T-11 with two Soviet Cosmonauts in 1982. From its infancy till now, Indian effort to expand its footprint in space continues its close cooperation with Russia, even on projects such as the Moon mission Chandrayaan-2, and the upcoming Human Space Flight Project.