Achieving Indian Interests Amidst Russia-China Concord

March 30, 2024 Prashant Sharma


The conclusion of the Cold War had a profound impact on the distribution of power among major nations, with its most notable consequences unfolding in Europe. In Europe, the reunification of the two German states into one had significant implications. Furthermore, the desire of France to pursue an independent foreign policy saw a new direction. Simultaneously, the Eastern superpower, the Soviet Union, experienced a reduction in both its territorial expanse and its ability to project power.

During this period, ranging from early 1990s to early 2010s, Russia sought to maintain its involvement with influential global players, whether established or emerging. China fell into the latter category, and Russia began taking initial steps towards enhancing ties with her southern neighbour. These included the expansion of trade in petrochemical products, cultural exchanges, and arms sales, which laid a solid foundation for a closer partnership between Russia and China. Both nations also shared a similar world view as both carries a grudge against the west dominated world order. These sentiments drew Russia and China closer to one another and created a solid ground work for a strong relationship.

This desire to build a fruitful relationship took a new and important step when in February 2022, President Xi Jinping of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia declared an unrestricted partnership, with “no limits”i. This declaration is commonly perceived as a consolidation of their formidable military prowess in the eastern hemisphere, positioning them in opposition to the prevailing Western-dominated global order. Several experts believes that this de-facto alliance is to alter the world order for Russian-Chinese benefit.

Less than a month after this declaration, Russia initiated the invasion of Ukraine, labelled as a “special military operation”, which has prolonged for months. Russia's inability to achieve intended military and strategic goals can be attributed significantly to substantial backing from Western nations.ii Nevertheless, this invasion has resulted in a blurring of lines between Russia and China on various matters. As evident by, until 2022, Russia had maintained a relatively restrained stance concerning the Quad, although it had never espoused QUAD familiar sentiments in past, and the broader principles related to the Indo-Pacific region. However, there was a notable shift as Russia began adamantly opposing these groupings. Furthermore, Russia has over the time displayed a subdued response to the blatant breaches of international law in the South China Sea. It can be interpreted that this change in Russian behaviour as a manifestation of Russia assuming a subordinate role, often described as the “junior partner” while dealing with China.

Economic resilience: building block of a great power

In 2022, the trade volume between China and Russia stood at $190.271 billion. Remarkably, in the initial half of the current year, the trade volume surged by 36.5%iii. The foundation of China's economic collaboration with Russia predominantly centres around the oil and gas sector. Given, China's extensive market size, its energy demands are substantial, and Russia, providing cost-effective and convenient access to oil and gas, plays a pivotal role in meeting these requirements. To ensure long supply of oil and gas, both nations have built pipelines similar to Russian pipelines with Europe.

The primary and crucial pipeline, known as the “Power of Siberia” or PS-1, was outlined in a 2019 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), projecting its peak capacity to reach 38 billion cubic meters (bcm)iv by 2024. The PS-1 is part of Russian efforts to bring $400 billion of investments in next 30 years. Additionally, Russia and China are actively exploring the development of another pipeline, with carrying capacity of 98 bcm by 2030. This proposed pipeline is planned to initiate from the Altai Mountain ranges, traversing across Mongolia, and ultimately connecting to the Chinese mainland. These pipelines may even act as a hub of energy supply in Asia, however, China till now has appeared to drag its feet from committing such a huge amount of resources into pipeline development. Chinese, on the other hand, are trying to source their energy requirements from Western and Central Asia, which can potentially strengthen, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and while avoiding dependency over Russia in long term.



Russia and China are significantly advancing their economic collaboration, characterized by Russia exporting raw materials and importing finished goods from China. While this economic dynamic might appear skewed, the reality is far from it. In words of Velina Tchakarova, the Director of the Austrian institute for European and security policy, the Russia-China partnership is the one where “China predominantly calls the shots but remain dependent on Russia in many ways”,vi once again underscoring the importance of each other. Russia also enjoys, a trade surplus with China, which is very rare, of $38 billion dollars as per the 2022 trade data, underlining the importance of both to each other economically.vii

Other than strengthening bilateral economic partnership, Russia and China are also trying to leverage other manners to expand their strategic dominance. The expansion of the BRICS grouping and the promotion of “de-dollarisation” are two key strategies employed by this de-facto alliance in this direction. By broadening the BRICS coalition, they create additional avenues to facilitate trade using national currencies, thereby reducing dependency on the US dollar. This move isn't solely about control over natural resources; it’s also a strategic economic manoeuvre aimed at diminishing reliance on the dominant Western financial systems.

Hence, China and Russia are actively collaborating to form a robust economic partnership, aiming to establish a foundation for a relationship capable of withstanding challenges from the Western world. This strategic alliance is intended to enhance their economic resilience and autonomy in the face of potential adversities or pressures from the Western nations as economic power is the base over which the great power stands.

Military collaboration: a gate to a new world order?

  1. Military exercises and doctrinal enhancement

In a recent development, Russia and China engaged in an extensive naval drill in the Sea of Japan, deploying a formidable fleet of 20 warships. Termed “Northern/Interaction-2023,viii” this exercise is anticipated to be the precursor to additional joint naval drills. This collaborative effort gains significance in the contemporary era, especially as the Indo-Pacific region is projected to hold substantial influence in the power dynamics among the major global players. Russia and China have further strengthened their cooperation through joint military exercises, exemplified by the extensive Vostok-2022 exercise. This large-scale event saw participation from over “50,000 troops and 5,000 weapons units, which included an impressive fleet of 140 aircraft and 60 warships.”ix Such collaborative military endeavours underscore the deepening partnership between the two nations in the realms of defence and security.

The military exercises conducted by Russia and China represent just a fraction of the broader military relationship they have been cultivating. Their military collaboration strategy was initially formulated in 2017 and saw updates in 2021. Anticipated revisions in 2025 aim to ensure the strategy aligns with current geopolitical realities and relationships between the two nations. In the updated military cooperation strategy for 2025, there's a possibility of incorporating new elements that encompass joint collaboration in areas like the East Asia, Ukraine, Eurasia, Indian Subcontinent (most likely in Afghanistan) and the Indo-Pacific. This could signify an expansion of their military understanding, highlighting a shared interest in addressing and cooperating on specific geopolitical issues beyond their respective borders. The evolving nature of this strategy indicates a deepening military partnership with broader regional and international implications.



  1. Arms sell to bring technical-military coherence

Russia has also been a significant supplier of high-quality military hardware to China since the end of the Cold War. According to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), Russia's share in China's military imports was substantial, ranging from 34% to 60?tween 1999 and 2006x. Following this period, China shifted its focus towards importing high-end technological equipment, particularly aircraft engines, to reverse engineer and develop its capabilities. This reverse engineering is verified by the fact that Chinese submarines “sports features of the Russian Project-877 and Project-636 Kilo class submarines.”xi

Starting from 2016, Russia also started to provide advanced weaponry to China, including the formidable S-400 air defence system and the Su-35, a fifth-generation fighter jet.xii In 2019, China and Russia announced the joint collaboration to develop China’s early warning missile defence system.xiii These acquisitions and collaborations underscore the ongoing cooperation and technological exchange between the two nations to strengthen the Military Industrial Cooperation (MIC).

However, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy propelled substantial investments into defence technology. Consequently, China has emerged as a significant global supplier of defence hardware. This transformation has influenced the dynamics of the China-Russia relationship, shifting towards a new shape where Russia increasingly relies on China for modern weaponry, including drones and other advanced defence systems. The evolving nature of this collaboration highlights the changing power dynamics and mutual interdependence in the defence sector between the two nations.

Undoubtedly, while there may be divergences between Russia and China, their cooperation in the military domain unquestionably benefits both nations. It enhances their defence capabilities, fosters technological advancements, and strengthens their geopolitical position. However, it also poses a crucial question to the West: can they prevent a consolidated Russian-Chinese military power from challenging and potentially disrupting the established post-war world order?

Will India maintain her strategic volition or turn a western ally?

India has always adopted a unique approach to international relations, characterized by its commitment to pursuing an independent foreign policy and engaging with the world on its own terms. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), an initiative India played a pivotal role in founding, gained significant traction in the global south during the Cold War era. Even, Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, praised India's foreign policy choices in his book, “World Order.” He drew a comparison between India's foreign policy approach and the early decades of US foreign policy, highlighting India's emphasis on strategic autonomy.

However, today’s world order is quite different as several regional powers have gained enough economic and military capabilities to steer an independent foreign policy. This applies on India too and is clearly evident in India's approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. India refrained from outright condemnation and maintained a cautious stance. Even the India chaired G-20 summit, 2023 didn’t explicitly mention Russia as an invader in the joint statement. However, the Russia-China bonhomie which in words of Dr Velina, “is neither an alliance nor an attempt nor a marriage of convenience” rather “it is a tactical understanding”, which can possibly derail the India-Russia ties if not diversified to other sectors and managed efficiently.

India relies on Russia for defence supplies which according to data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance, is at a precarious level as “more than 90 percent of the Indian Army’s armoured vehicles, 69 percent of combat aircraft operated by the Air Force and Navy, and 44 percent of the Navy’s submarines and warships are Russian.”xiv This dependency in critical weaponry underscores the importance of maintaining a robust relationship with Russia from Indian perspective.

However, India can’t allow this dependency to jeopardise her security so Indians need to devise methods to diversify their defence supplies. This becomes extremely important as India and China are already in a military standoff, precipitated by Chinese intrusions into Eastern Ladakh. In case of an open conflict between India and China, Russia - being a junior partner –remain neutral, thus interrupting Indian defence supplies. This changed geo-political reality will put India into a preposterous situation and thus needs to be carefully studied by the Indian policymakers.

The second part of the China-Russia “tactical” understanding lies in the Mackinder’s Heartland – the region which British Geographer Halford Mackinder (in 1904; revisited in 1919) believed will shape the future world power politics. This region of Eurasia, filled with former Soviet Republics, is becoming a new contesting checkboard among major powers. China is using its financial and economic capabilities, under BRI, while Russia is using its military capabilities to strengthen partnerships with these nations. However, everything is not hunky dory with Russia and China in Eurasia. Russia do not want to cede the primary role in the region while Chinese investments are making Eurasian states, particularly Central Asian to view China as a formidable power in the region. This is where the role of India becomes extremely important, as India also has major stakes and interests in the region. Russia, keeping this contradiction with China and alignment with India in mind, has regularly invited Indians into dialogues concerning Afghanistan. The most recent of which held in Russian town of Kazan on 29 September, 2023 with presence of the Taliban.

Russia also demonstrates a willingness to facilitate dialogue between India and China on international platforms, notably through the convening of Russia-India-China (RIC) meetings. The RIC initiative, originally initiated in 1998 with the aim of “balancing Western alliances,”xv saw a revival in 2019 during the 14th G-20 summit in Osaka. Subsequently, member states of the RIC convened again in 2020 and held virtual meeting in 2021. However, it's worth noting that since then, China, as the host nation, has not taken the initiative to call for another RIC summit. Hence, the RIC is stagnant. The stagnation of RIC came a year after the Chinese intrusions in the Ladakh frontier.

Russia also perceives that fostering a positive relationship between India and China serves its interests of having cordial relations among the Eastern states. India, as a growing economic power, presents a substantial market for Russia's extensive oil resources. Additionally, India, as a significant military player, holds key naval capabilities in the strategic Indian Ocean region. Nonetheless, Russia's aspirations in this regard have faced obstacles due to Chinese intrusions. On multiple occasions, Russia has attempted to ease these tensions. Even, the sole disengagement that has occurred since these intrusions was after a meeting between the Indian Foreign Affairs minister and his Chinese counterpart in Moscow on the sidelines of the SCO summit.xvi This, also gives a hint of involvement of Russia in India and China boundary dispute.

The dynamics of Russia-China relations present a dual aspect too. While they have aligned on various issues where their interests converge, maintaining a strategic partnership, they also retain the flexibility to align with other nations, particularly in areas where their interests may not completely align. India falls into the category where Russia and China disagree. Russians have for long desired that China and India shall have peaceful relations, however it is reasoned that such desire originates due to Russian inclination to build a formidable Eastern bloc against the West. However, if Russians think that way then it is only a wishful thinking as India is only aligned to its interests and has no desire to be a part of anyone’s alliance.

Way forward

The way forward for India involves a strategic focus on building a robust defence production capacity within the country. Strengthening indigenous defence manufacturing and research capabilities is vital for India to become self-reliant and establish itself as an independent power on the global stage. This approach would enable India to express its viewpoints with greater clarity and confidence, while also mitigating India's extreme overreliance on Russian military suppliers. India could also pursue collaborations with other defence providers, as seen in the purchase of 155mm Howitzers from South Korea, among other potential partnerships, to diversify and enhance its military modernization efforts.

India should further diversify its security requirements by establishing robust partnerships with a diverse range of countries, regions, and international alliances. This may encompass collaborations with the United States, the European Union, West Asia, Central Asia, Latin America, Africa, East Asia, and ASEAN. This diversification is crucial because India currently relies heavily on China for rare earth minerals and critical supplies like photovoltaic solar modules. By expanding its influence in Africa and South America, India can secure a stable supply of these essential resources, which are vital for its sustained economic growth and development.

Thus, this diversification will bolster India's strategic independence and extend its geopolitical influence. This expanded influence will empower India to effectively counter its adversaries and adeptly safeguard its interests in the complex landscape of contemporary global politics.

India should anticipate that Russia and China will continue to strengthen their political, economic, military, and strategic partnerships. This situation leaves limited room for India to collaborate with other “Asian” powers in pursuit of global stability. Consequently, India must continue to bolster its relationships with Western powers to safeguard its critical national interests, including ensuring stability in the Indo-Pacific region, fostering economic growth, and advancing military modernization, among other objectives. As India's Ministry of External Affairs puts it, this strategy can be summarized as, “This is a time to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play,”xvii representing the most effective way forward for India.


i Tony MunroeAndrew Osborn and Humeyra Pamuk (February 5, 2022), China Russia partner against West at Olympic summit, Reuters, China, Russia partner up against West at Olympics summit | Reuters

ii Lt Gen Prakash Katoch, (April 24, 2023), Ukraine’s Spring offensive, Indian Defence Review, Ukraine's Spring Offensive (

iiiGlobal times (9 August 2023) China’s trade with Russia surge 36.5% from Jan-July despite Global downturn China’s trade with Russia surges 36.5% from Jan-Jul, despite global downturn - Global Times

iv Anastasia Stognei, Joe Leahy, Yuan Yang (25 May 2023) Power of Siberia: China keeps Putin waiting on gas pipeline, Financial Times, Power of Siberia: China keeps Putin waiting on gas pipeline | Financial Times (

v Ibid.

vii Russia Briefing, (March 9, 2023) China Russia trade breakdown and future development, China-Russia Trade Breakdown and Future Development Trends - Russia Briefing News (

ix AP, Moscow (1, September 2022) Russia China launch large scale military drills amid tensions with US, Guardian, Russia and China launch large-scale military drills amid tensions with US | World news | The Guardian

x Siemon T. Wezeman,(5 July, 2017),China Russia and the shifting landscape of arms sales, SIPRI, China, Russia and the shifting landscape of arms sales | SIPRI

xi Ibid.

xii Franz-Stefan Gady, (June 27, 2019) Russia offers China another batch of Su-35 Fighters Jets, The Diplomat, Russia Offers China Another Batch of Su-35 Fighter Jets – The Diplomat

xiii Web Desk (25 August 2020), Russia working with China to design submarines, missile defence system, The Week, Russia working with China to design submarine, missile defence system - The Week

xiv Tom Waldwyn and Viraj Solanki, (3 April, 2023) India’s Defence plans fall victim to Russia’s plans, Foreign Policy, India's Defense Plans Fall Victim to Russia's War (

xv Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, (July 9, 2019) Russia-India-China trilateral grouping: More than Hype?, The Diplomat, Russia-India-China Trilateral Grouping: More Than Hype? – The Diplomat

xvi  Gabriel Crossley, Sanjeev Miglani (September 11, 2020) China, India agrees to disengage troops on contested border , Reuters, China, India agree to disengage troops on contested border | Reuters

xvii  Krzysztof Iwanek, (September 25, 2020) Jiashankar’s six needles: Indian Foreign policy ‘The India Way’, The Diplomat, Jaishankar’s Six Needles: Indian Foreign Policy ‘The India Way’ – The Diplomat

About the Author:

Prashant Sharma is working as Border Management Analyst at Centre for Internal Security Analysis. He holds Master's Degree in Defense Studies.


The research article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of Indic Researchers Forum.

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