Did India Successfully Managed Tensions of its Strategic Partnerships between the US, Iran and Russia?

By Anirudh Ramakrishna Phadke

*The following article was originally published by the author in “Research Papers on Defence and Strategic Studies Vol. 1”

How successfully has India tried to manage the tensions between its strategic partnership with the United States on one hand and its strategic partnerships with Iran and Russia on the other?

As the two biggest democracies of the world, India and the United States strategic partnership began to flourish in the post-cold war era. India and Soviet Union (now Russia) began their diplomatic engagements during in 1954 to counter US-Pakistan strategic partnership which was made through Central Treaty Organisation. During 1961, India saw a strain in its strategic partnership with Soviet Union as India became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement to avoid playing victim card due to cold war or in other words the aggressive powerplay between the US and Soviet Union. Few years ahead, the then 37th US President Nixon’s decision to support Pakistan during 1971 Indo-Pak war shut off communication between India and the US.


The dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991 and India’s foreign policy adaptation of the Unipolar World led to develop close ties with United States. On the other hand, upon dissolution of Soviet Union, now Russia retained its special strategic partnership with India. It has been termed as special and privileged strategic partnership by many scholars. India and Russia have a strong economic, military, and diplomatic relations till now. India and Russia have a strong economic, military, and diplomatic engagements. India and Iran established their first diplomatic relations in 1950. India’s relations with Iran suffered same fate as the US and Soviet Union. The relationship saw a serious downfall when India became the fundamental pillar of non-Alignment cooperation while Iran openly conveyed its support for Western Bloc and enjoyed close relations with the US.

The post-cold war period once again changed the ways these four countries acted among themselves. Although India did not recognise 1979 Islamic Revolution, the relations between the two countries began to prosper when wind turned against US with context of Iran. In post- Cold War era it can be aptly said that India had ties with US and Iran for technology, commerce, and oil trade, respectively. There are many instances where tensions began to grow between these nations due to their close diplomatic ties with other partners.

As the cold war memories have been fading away so did the India’s non-Alignment movement. When Narendra Modi, former chief minister of Gujarat state, elected as Prime Minister of India in 2014, the latter statement began to make even more sense. Under the new regime India has succeeded in a new foreign policy notion called strategic autonomy. So, what are the diplomatic tensions India is facing with the US, Iran, and Russia by adopting a strategic autonomy policy.


The United States and Iran are engaged in constant odds right from mid 1950s. During that time US was caught in the race with UK to conquer oil reserves of Iraq and Iran. Later US overthrew Iran’s democratic government to gain upper hand in oil reserves. Meanwhile the then imperial regime too failed shortly leading to Iran Revolution.US cut out formal diplomatic ties it had with Iran when signing nuclear development program under its imperial regime. In recent years US assassination of Iran’s top commander Qasem Soleimani made even more anti- American sentiment stronger. Meanwhile India having its largest oil demand satisfied by Iran, has been caught in this dilemma between US-Iran conflict.

In recent times as India seeks to balance its US and Iran ties by hunting out other sources to meet its oil demand. This move has been fuelled by strict imposition of economic sanctions against Iran. India is carefully crafting this move as Tehran is important for New Delhi as both nations have key strategic interests in Indo-Pacific region and condemning Taliban and Pakistan’s action against fostering terrorism in Indian soil. India has managed to create two- way portal in such a way that US’ FDI (Foreign Direct Investments) in India and India’s FDIs in Iran’s Chabahar port does not create hindrances. The port is vital for India in accessing major parts of Central Asia and Eastern Russia.

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India has managed to send a message to Washington stating that Iran is key element in Indo- Pacific construct to connect Eurasia as New Delhi has plans to make it a functioning alternative to China’s BRI project. Since US has growing concerns with China regarding BRI, Washington started to show positive signs towards India’s latter plan. Further India included Russia in its development project thus making these rival big powers to join hands and at same time not straining its own relationship. The International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), currently in its beta stage aims to connect Mumbai in India to St. Petersburg in Russia via Iran. Think tank experts have said that despite India’s growing activities with Iran it will have not but noticeable impact on US-India strategic partnership.

Another potential way that India tried to delicate the act of balancing by engaging as mediator in solving the US-Iran tensions. For New-Delhi energy security including alternate sources to oil, will be the ultimate concern for next few years. Non-oil trade between Iran and India stood at US$ 2.69 billion in recent years. This implies that apart from decreasing oil trade between the two countries due to US’ economic sanctions, New-Delhi and Tehran firmly holds their strategic partnership. Scholars suggest that India maintaining relations with Iran and US in fact can be useful bridge between Iran and the US. India with the help of international groupings such as the International Energy Agency, is encouraging bilateral dialogue between US and Iran while making India to source out alternate energy developing infrastructure to meet its energy demands. India has been trying to indulge Washington to find value in considering new economic partnerships with Iran, rather than pushing to curb these ties.

The next irritant which is openly visible is the strategic partnership maintained between both the US and Russia by India. During the Cold War era both the countries had aggressive powerplay to heighten their sphere of Influence. Although India founded non-Aligned movement it had close military ties with Soviet Union (now Russia). Upon dissolution after Cold War India’s foreign policy adopted Unipolar world thus retaining diplomatic ties with Russia while blooming new ties with the US. This caused much turmoil to India as it progressed towards establishing itself as a regional power in Asia.

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Opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author. Image credit goes to Google Images.

About the Author

Anirudh Phadke is the founding-editor of The Viyug. He holds a Master of Science (Strategic Studies) and a certificate in Terrorism Studies from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He currently works for an International Law Enforcement Organisation based in Singapore. He can be reached out via email at anirudh.r.phadke@viyug.com

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