Vinay Shukla, Independent Indian journalist, political analyst
Vinay Shukla, Independent Indian journalist, political analyst

India-Russia Relations: some memorable moments from a scribe’s notebook

May 27, 2017
The 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Russia widely marked in both countries is more than a date in the chronicles of bilateral ties.

Perhaps few in the younger generations realise that New Delhi and Moscow had established their bilateral diplomatic relations on April 13, 1947 four months before British India was partitioned and got its independence on August 15. Over the years for millions of Indians and Russians bilateral relations have acquired personal, emotional and special significance. The fact of the matter is that any Indian, who had personally felt the warmth of a Russian heart and any Russian who had encountered the land of fables - the incredible India, could never remain indifferent to this relationship.

Strangely enough, in spite of Eurasian expanses now separating us, this relationship serves as a bridge between past, present and future of the ancient civilisational links between the two nations. There are many inherent similarities which unite us spiritually, philosophically and behaviourally. This relationship not only surviving the Soviet collapse and change of governments and economic systems in both the countries, but also further developing into a privileged strategic partnership.

However, not everything was smooth on this path, we had ups and downs all the way, but looking back you find that it was all the time a forward movement. Here I would like to share with the readers some moments of pessimism, dismay and hope in covering Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia as an Indian journalist based in Moscow during the stormy and fateful years in the life of the country.

It was July-end 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev’s «perestroika» was at full swing. My office in Delhi asked me to file something on the 20th anniversary of cornerstone Indo- Soviet Friendship treaty of 1971 expiring on August 7, as there was no word about its automatic extension or scrapping. No satisfactory reply was available from the Foreign Ministry as it was busy with the visit of US President George Bush, Sr.. Luckily, at the reception hosted by the Kremlin Press Service for the Moscow-based foreign media and visiting US journalists, I found myself next to Ambassador Alexander Dzasokhov, who was at that time chair of the powerful foreign affairs committee of the Supreme Soviet (Soviet Parliament). Former Communist leader of North Ossetia Dzasokhov was among Gorbachev’s close allies and I grabbed the opportunity and asked about future of the treaty. He was rather surprised that no papers were sent for his approval, but assured me: «I will look into the matter, be assured that it will be extended and we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of friendship treaty, that was also instrumental in the liberation of Bangladesh.»

Two days later it was formally announced that foreign affairs committee of Supreme Soviet has approved the prolongation of Indo-Russian Friendship and Cooperation Treaty for another five years. But it was a fateful August in Soviet history, which witnessed anti-Gorbachev coup and triggered the process of Soviet collapse.

That Gloomy January Morning of 1992

On the eve, Ambassador Alfred Gonsalves called and told me to come to Oktyabrskaya Hotel early next morning for Foreign Secretary J N Dixit’s briefing. I knew «Mani Da» from my school days as his stepfather, a prominent Gandhian freedom fighter Sita Charan Dixit was a friend of my uncle and our neighbour at New Delhi’s Pandara Road. It was gloomy January morning, usual for Moscow, Mani Dixit’s briefing was not very enthusiastic, he was sent by erstwhile prime minister PV Narasimha Rao to Moscow on fact-finding mission within a fortnight after President Mikhail Gorbachev’s resignation on Christmas of 1991 closing the Soviet chapter of the Russian history.

In spite of all the efforts of the Indian embassy, for which all the Kremlin doors were always open in the past, new Foreign Minister of Russia Andrei Kozyrev had virtually refused to meet him. Before taking leave Mani Dixit, gently held my hand and gently said: «vital national interests and geopolitical compulsions will again revive our relations.»

His words uttered on the gloomy January morning of 1991 proved prophetic.

Leaving behind the controversies over Moscow’s refusal to transfer cryogenic rocket engine technology under US pressure and other trade and economic issues the two countries confidently moved ahead as Russia gradually restored its sovereignty and continued to be the main provider of defence hardware to the Indian armed forces. Some of the most successful defence projects like Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Brahmos JV for the production of supersonic cruise missiles are rooted in the era when everybody in the world had written off Russia as a technological power.

Thanks to the wisdom of the political leadership of the two countries, India-Russia cooperation today covers almost all areas of human activities including space, nuclear, conventional and renewable energy. The two nations have started taking steps to strengthen economic pillar of bilateral strategic partnership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s St. Petersburg visit as the special guest of Economic Forum is a clear indication of the resolve to fortify the economic content of this partnership.

Vinay Shukla, Independent Indian journalist, political analyst.