The US has made much of its success in isolating Russia internationally. But that boast is hard to take too seriously when Russia is growing ever closer to the two largest countries in the world. While the world has been watching the "no limits" partnership between Russia and China grow into “a relationship that probably cannot be compared with anything in the world," Russia has been growing quietly closer to the second largest country in the world.
India has long been a close partner of Russia. In 2009, India and Russia signed the Joint Russian-Indian Declaration of Deepening and Strategic Partnership. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Russia where the two sides agreed on a number of steps to enhance that partnership.
That partnership did not come apart under US pressure after Russia invaded Ukraine. Despite intense pressure from the US to "take a clear position" against Russia, India has refused to condemn Russia at the UN and has repeated Russia’s call to take "into account the legitimate security interests of all countries." India has also offered Russia an escape from sanctions by swelling from a country that once imported little Russian oil to a country that now has Russia as its top supplier of oil. India imported $41.56 billion from Russia in the last fiscal year, which is about five times its previous level. Before the war, Russia was India’s eighteenth largest import partner; since the war, Russia has become India’s fourth largest import partner.
And the partnership did not only not come apart, it grew stronger. On September 16, 2022, over half a year after the war in Ukraine began, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that "Relations between Russia and India have significantly improved." He called the friendship "extremely important." Seven months later, on April 16, 2023, Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the relationship with Russia had not changed, calling it "among the steadiest of the major relationships of the world in the contemporary era."
Russia’s March 31 new foreign policy concept states that "Russia will continue to build up a particularly privileged strategic partnership with the Republic of India in order to raise the level and expand cooperation in all areas."
And while the US is pushing a plan to ban all exports to Russia except those that are specifically exempted, India is defiantly following its independent path and continuing to strengthen its economic relationship with Russia. India and Russia have resumed discussions on a free trade agreement between India and the Russian led Eurasian Economic Commission that had been disrupted by COVID. The two countries are now engaged in "advanced negotiations" for a new bilateral investment treaty.
But the advancing relationship is not just based on trade. Beyond economics, Jaishankar said that India and Russia "share a commitment to a multi-polar world." The new Russian foreign policy concept also stressed that transforming "Eurasia into a continental common space of peace, stability, mutual trust, development and prosperity" necessitated the comprehensive strengthening of the SCO."
The SCO, or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is a massive international organization that includes Russia, China, India and Pakistan. It is the world’s second largest international organization after the UN, and its primary purpose is to re-balance the US led unipolar world into a multipolar world.
Along with Russia and China, India is also a member of BRICS, another important multipolar organization. Contained within BRICS is the core RIC group that traces its roots all the way back to 1996. In their joint statement of February 4, 2022, Russia and China stressed strengthening, not only the SCO and BRICS, but specifically "develop[ing] cooperation within the ‘Russia-India-China’ format." India has also called, not only for the general "strengthening of the BRICS Identity," but specifically for discussions on "further strengthening of RIC trilateral cooperation."
This year, India will host the SCO summit. In a further show of the growing relationship between Russia and India, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to travel to India twice this year: once to the SCO summit and once to the G20 summit. The two countries expect to take advantage of the visits to make cooperation between them stronger. The visits make an additional statement following the International Criminal Court’s March 17 issuing of a warrant of arrest for Putin as a war criminal.
In a further evolution of the multipolar world, India seems interested in joining Russia and China in escaping from the hegemony of the US dollar. Speaking in India, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov expressed Russia’ interest in using "national currencies and currencies of friendly countries" for trade. Reuters reports that India, too, "has been keen on increasing the use of its rupee currency for trade with Russia." And, recently, India has begun purchasing some Russian oil in Russian rubles.
BRICS represents 40% of the world’s population, the SCO represents 43%, and both are growing. China and India make up more than a third of the population of the world. As Russia’s much discussed relationship with China and, importantly, its much less discussed relationship with India continue to grow, it is hard to take seriously the Western insistence that Russia is isolated and alone.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.