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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 13:36 GMT
India and Russia's common past
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila spread flowers over Rajghat memorial to Mahatma Gandhi
The current friendship goes back to Indian independence

India and Russia have a long history of friendship, going back more than 50 years to India's independence.

We are so near that if ever you call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side

Nikita Khrushchev, 1955
Seeking to offset American influence in Asia as well as wanting to neutralise the power of China, an alliance with India was once central to Moscow's Asia policy.

As a newly-independent nation, India under its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pursued a non-aligned policy and sought to maintain relations with both America and the Soviet Union.

But a close relationship with the former USSR also came to match India's interests for many strategic reasons.


India too sought strategic depth against China with whom it went to war in 1962 over a portion of disputed territory in Kashmir, and continues to have fractious relations.

Jawaharlal Nehru, first prime minister of independent India
Nehru: Pursued a non-aligned foreign policy
And India became wary of the strength of the American relationship with Pakistan, who was famously described as America's most allied ally in Asia.

During the Cold War, India supported the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of America (and Pakistan).

And the Soviet Union consistently gave India backing for its position over Kashmir - and as a permanent member of the Security Council was able to use its power of veto in India's favour.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's trip to India in 1955 marked the cementing of a close relationship.

Declaring support for Indian sovereignty over Kashmir, Khrushchev said: "We are so near that if ever you call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side."

Changing priorities

The Soviet Union also played the role of peacemaker between India and Pakistan, brokering the Tashkent agreement which ended the 1965 war between the two countries.

Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin
Putin has presided over a renewal of ties with India
But it stood behind India's support for East Pakistan's (now Bangladesh) independence from Pakistan in 1971.

And Russia has been, by far, India's biggest source of weapons.

But since the end of the Cold War, both India and Russia have sought to improve their relations with America and to open their economies.

This has changed many of their foreign policy priorities.

India's testing of nuclear weapons in 1998 complicated their relationship, with Russia a signed up member of the non-proliferation club.

Many shared concerns remain, however, and have become more pressing recently.

Working in tandem

Pakistan's erstwhile ties with the Taleban and proximity to Afghanistan made it an essential ally for America's 'war against terrorism' after 11 September.

But India complained that its concerns about Pakistani-sponsored terrorism in Indian territory were being ignored by the international community.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin
Putin visited China before India
And just as India sought to include their problems in Kashmir on the agenda of the US-led war on terror, so Russia wanted international sympathy for its view that their military campaign in Chechnya was a campaign against terrorism.

Russia has talked for several years about the formation of an India-Russia-China strategic axis as a means of countering America's global reach.

Many obstacles - not least the desire of all three to improve relations with America - stand in the way of such a formation.

But the joint declaration signed by China and Russia in Beijing on Monday referred to a "future multipolar world".

And the concerns of all three about terrorism and Muslim insurgents in their territory, as well as their immediate wariness of possible military action in Iraq, could provide the starting point for such a relationship.

See also:

04 Dec 02 | South Asia
02 Dec 02 | South Asia
02 Dec 02 | South Asia
15 Nov 02 | Business
18 Apr 02 | Business
13 Feb 01 | South Asia
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