Russia and India partnership on Afghanistan and Indo-Pacific

by Silvia Boltuc

The Indian Foreign Affairs Minister’s recent visit to Moscow highlights that Russia-India relations intensify because New Delhi has become one of the Kremlin’s essential trading partners and a valuable ally in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific.

On July 7th, 2021, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar flew to Moscow for a three-day visit to discuss the bilateral agenda, common international interests, and the following official summit between the two countries.

Economy & Finance

The Indian Foreign Minister addressed commercial interests with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, with whom he chairs the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation: the two parties noted that trade between Moscow and New Delhi has grown by 12% the first four months of this year. In this regard, Jaishankar has expressed India’s interest in starting talks with the Eurasian Economic Commission on creating a free trade area, and a working group has been set up to pursue this goal. Regarding trade exchange and logistics, New Delhi might support the inclusion of the Iranian port of Chabahar within the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to export Indian goods to Russia (Read more: Geopolitica del porto iraniano di Chabahar). Previously, on June 29th, 2021, Moscow achieved a significant result in energy cooperation with India because the Russian company Atomstroyexport started constructing Unit 5 of the Indian Kudankulam nuclear power plant (NPP).

Humanitarian aid & Health partnership

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined at the press conference the solid foundations of trust that have always characterised relations between the two countries, defining them as ‘immune to the international political environment’. Moscow achieved a vital result after the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the leading Indian pharmaceutical companies signed the agreement to produce the Russian Sputnik V vaccine on site.

Military & Defense

Russia and India examined the possibility of enhancing their cooperation on regional stability and defence issues. Moscow and New Delhi are considering broadening the legal framework of the current defence cooperation contracts, fabricating Russian defence products in India, and setting up joint ventures.

International issues

The two sides evaluated critical scenarios in Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. Lavrov stressed the importance of cooperation within the G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BRICS and the United Nations, where India is currently a member of the Security Council. The Russian minister also said that there had been further promising contacts between Russia, India and China (RIC), which further meetings at the ministerial level will follow.

During the meeting, they held talks on the Iranian nuclear deal since the relations between India and Iran are growing, thanks to the recent collaboration in the joint construction of the port of Chabahar. Before arriving in Russia, the Indian Foreign Minister paid an official visit to Tehran to deliver a personal message from President Narendra Moodi to the Iranian new-elected President Ebrahim Raisi. In this framework, the Russian Federation considers India an essential interlocutor in the negotiations to bring Iran back into the nuclear deal.

Geopolitical analysis

The recent meeting between the Indian and Russian foreign affairs ministries underline Moscow-New Delhi’s desire to strengthen their cooperation on regional issues. In addition, it should be noted that the Indian delegation paid an official visit to Moscow during the days that the Taliban delegation was in the Russian capital to discuss the future of Afghanistan with Russian officials.

Afghanistan is one of the most critical topics for Russia and India (Read more: Afghanistan: Taliban offensive in the north alarms Central Asia). Since the United States started withdrawing its troops from the country, Afghanistan has experienced instability, the rise of Taliban offensive, and a power vacuum that regional actors aim to fill.  In recent years India has significantly invested in Afghanistan: New Delhi is seeking to protect its interests in the Afghan territory and, at the same time, contrast China and Pakistan. Since Pakistan has been often accused of supporting or exploiting the Taliban for its regional interests, New Delhi is concerned that the recent Taliban conquest of important strongholds might cause a confrontation with Islamabad.  Consequently, India is looking for close collaboration with Russia and Iran to strengthen its regional position and guarantee national safety.

India has achieved concrete results in international relations with key players in the region. In fact, besides cooperating with Moscow, New Delhi is a fundamental ally of Washington and Tehran in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific. In this framework, Lavrov and Jaishankar discussed their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific area, agreeing their position favouring maintaining and strengthening the central role of ASEAN in the security architecture, including the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum on Security and ASEAN Defense Ministers meetings. Moscow’s attempt to join forces with New Delhi in the Indo-Pacific represents a threat to the US-Indian alliance in the region.

On the subject of Afghanistan, the visit of the Indian Foreign Minister to Tehran before arriving in Moscow coincided with visits by a high-level Taliban delegation led by the head of the Taliban political office Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai and the former Afghan vice president Yunus Qanooni. Also, the Indian foreign affairs minister paid his official visit to Moscow the same days that a delegation of the Taliban movement, headed by Maylyawi Shahabuddine Delawar (one of the heads of the political office in Qatar), was attending meetings with the special representative of the President of Russia for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. 

Even though India and Russia had denied that there had been trilateral meetings or, in any case, official contacts between the Indian delegation and the Taliban, it would not be the first time that Iran, India and Russia had jointly confronted the Taliban regime as happened in 2001 when they jointly supported the Northern Alliance.

Final Assessment

In conclusion, considering that Moscow is concerned that the Taliban offensive in Northern Afghanistan might destabilise entire Central Asia and negatively affect Kremlin’s regional partners as Tajikistan,  Russia is seeking regional allies to manage security problems in the region (Read more: Tajikistan: the Kremlin’s frontier against the Taliban). The recent meeting between the Russian and the Indian foreign ministers highlighted that New Delhi might become one of the key Russian allies in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Russian-Indian cooperation might offer new opportunities for the Kremlin’s interests in the Indo-Pacific, contrasting the U.S. and Chinese regional strategies.


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