Book Review

Book Review: Achala Moulik's 'Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation of 1971' chronicles India and Russia's longstanding relationship

Print edition : December 17, 2021

Indo-Russian Treaty of Friendship.

June 9, 1976: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, on her arrival at the Moscow airport. Photo: TASS

RussiaN PRIME MINISTER Yevgeny Primakov with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in New Delhi on December 21, 1998. Photo: THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet Union leader. Photo: AFP

Boris Yeltsin, former Russian President. Photo: Kremlin

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with his Russian counterpart General Sergei Shoigu, in Moscow on November 6, 2019. They co-chaired the 19th India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military Technical Cooperation. Photo: PTI

This remarkable book commemorates a landmark treaty between India and the Soviet Union that played a key role in advancing ties between the two countries.

The Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation of 1971 between India and the Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), played a significant role in advancing India’s economic development. Its historical and political importance cannot be minimised or ignored. In this book, Achala Moulik, a former bureaucrat and leading scholar on Russia, has provided an outstanding account of the treaty’s impact on India’s development process.

Indo-Russian contribution to international affairs is also an important feature of India’s Russia policy examined in the book. Despite some mutual tensions in recent years, the two countries have viewed their relations in exuberant terms: a special and privileged strategic partnership in contemporary times.

In a recent affirmation of this, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh led a contingent of the Army in May 2020 to participate in Russia’s Victory Day celebrating that country’s National Day. The Minister also had detailed discussions on defence matters with his Russian counterpart, General Sergei Shoigu, and the Kremlin hierarchy, following which the two countries decided to conduct a joint naval exercise in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

More recently, India was invited to join the ‘Moscow Format’ discussions with the Afghan Taliban and contributed to increasing the political stability and security of Afghanistan in the aftermath of a conflict that lasted 20 years. One cannot but hope that the tensions between the two countries are removed and normalcy is restored.

Achala Moulik, the author of this remarkable book, was educated in Washington, New York, London and Rome, and graduated from University of London with a degree in economics, history, international relations and law. A recipient of Russia’s Pushkin Medal and the Yesenin Prize, she has several books to her credit, including an outstanding work called The Russian Revolution: Storms Across a Century (“The Revolution and its impact”, Frontline, February 02, 2018).

Historically, India-Russia cooperation in the areas of peace, development, and security has had a profound, far-reaching impact in India and elsewhere.

History of ties

This book, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the landmark 1971 treaty of friendship and cooperation between India and the Soviet Union, combines historical facts and events and political and cultural ties between them, including the personal aspects of the author’s own connection with Russia.

The book foregrounds the issues of Soviet Union’s ideological opposition to imperialism, Indian Independence and the Cold War between the two superpowers, the Unites States and the USSR, and shines a light on the history of the friendly relations between India and Russia. The civil war in East Pakistan provided the relationship a unique dimension to the 1971 friendship treaty when the Soviet Union supported the emergence of Bangladesh.

India became a close friend of the Soviet Union while maintaining its non-aligned status, which the USSR did not object to. The two countries, despite their different sociopolitical systems, maintained their positive relationship through the 1980s. They witnessed the tumultuous aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union but made continuous adjustments in their cooperative relations. They preserved the unique spirit of the 1971 treaty despite the U.S’ disapproval. Soviet aid and support to India always came without strings attached.

Also read: Strengthening old ties

The book contains 22 chapters with a foreword by Nikolay R. Kudashev, the Russian Ambassador to India, and an introduction by K. Raghunath, former Indian Ambassador to the Russian Federation. Three excellent photographs add to the attractiveness of the book: i) Leonid Brezhnev and Indira Gandhi in the Foreword; ii) Ambassador Alexander M. Kadakin with the author, page 241; and iii) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev, page 242, at the plaque launching ceremony in New Delhi in memory of Kadakin.

The book begins with the pioneers of India-Russia relations and examines the ideological foundations of Soviet foreign policy. It explores the nature of the relationship from 1946 to 1971 while noting the strengthening of ties in 1955 at the Bandung Conference. It also covers the Kashmir issue, the death of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 and the Tashkent Accord of 1965. The friendly relations continued during the regime of Indira Gandhi too. She was noted by the U.S. as the most admired woman globally in 1972.

The 1971 treaty, a masterpiece of Soviet diplomacy, was approved by Parliament as valid for 20 years. Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, visited India in 1973 and declared that Indian friendship was an integral part of Soviet foreign policy. The 1970s witnessed the U.S. being defeated in Vietnam. The U.S. also supported Islamist jehadists in Afghanistan. The USSR appealed for peace in Asia. In 1980, after Indira Gandhi returned to power, Brezhnev visited India and addressed a joint session of Parliament. The Soviet Union also opposed the creation of Khalistan in India.

Changing times

During the term of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, the Soviet system faced serious economic problems. The country suffered from corruption and bureaucracy at the top and grappled with the issue of low motivation among the working class.

Gorbachev pursued peace with the U.S. but failed to safeguard Russian interests. Collaboration with India continued. In the midst of a political crisis in the 1990s, Gorbachev visited India but the Soviet Union was already collapsing by then.

The book describes the collapse of the Soviet system and its negative impact on the treaty of 1971. U.S. scholars have provided a graphic account of the situation.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) consisting of former Soviet republics was born.

Also read: Red October in retrospect

President Yeltsin visited India in 1993 and extended the 1971 treaty beyond 20 years. He deleted the treaty’s adverse clauses on the U.S. and China. India’s debt to Russia was settled. Russia realised that globalisation had not benefited developing economies. The U.S. dominated the world economy and its writ ran over global politics. India-Russia trade improved in the 1990s but economic relations lagged behind defence collaboration. Cultural communications continued as before. In 1998, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov tried to improve ties with India. A joint statement declared that India and Russia would evolve a strategic partnership.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin became President of Russia and improved the economic situation. Russia could not prevent the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in September 2001 and pursued Osama bin Laden. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, there were calls in India to join the invasion but public opinion was mostly against it. Both Iraq and Afghanistan were traditional friends of the Russians and the Indians.

Deep analysis

In Chapter 16, the author provides an excellent analysis of the strategic issues in Indo-Soviet relations in the regional and global context, discussing the multipolar world, the pivotal pillar of the Indo-Russian relationship and India as the largest purchaser of Russian arms and its crucial military-technical connection with Russia. It also explores the deeper context of Indo-Russian cultural exchanges.

When Putin assumed office in 2000, he inherited a long and robust relationship with India and fortified it after the uncertainty of the Yeltsin years. India was transforming into a burgeoning economic power with political importance, when it first became a leading centre of information technology. Now, in the post-COVID world, it is being noted for its potential to become an Asian powerhouse.

In Chapter 20, Ambassador Alexander M. Kadakin explores strategic cooperation between India and Russia in a changing environment.

Also read: Comrades in arms

Kadakin was an outstanding exponent of the strategic relationship between the two nations. He loved India and served in the country for nearly quarter of a century. His love for and friendship with India were celebrated in both countries. A plaque in his memory was put up at the Diplomatic Enclave in New Delhi.

Chapter 21 of the book contains moving records of the contributions of Kadakin in India by his colleagues and the author.

The final chapter provides a witty yet serious comment by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the current relations between India and Russia.

The author Achala Moulik must be congratulated for writing the book and advancing the cause of friendship between the two countries.

K.S. Subramanian is a former civil servant and author.

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