Russia has been one of India's closest allies since the time of Independence, with Russia forming a key element of India's foreign policy. The two countries have had consistent exchanges in the fields of trade, defense and culture.
As part of our research, the Center for Soft Power is examining India's soft power resources in Russia. The research will look at quantifying India's soft power assets in Russia using specific data points under the following verticals- Ayurveda, Cinema, Cuisine, Art Craft and Design, Performing Arts, Yoga, Language and Literature, Spirituality, Education and Technology.
While Russia has a moderately sized Indian Diaspora with a total of 30,560 Non Resident Indians (28,610) and Persons of Indian Origins (1,950) living in the country. However, data collected by the ministry of External affairs (Ministry of External Affairs, 2016; Ministry of External Affairs, 2018) shows that this number has stayed consistent over the past two years - implying that Indian Migration to Russia has become significantly less, so much so that the number of new Indians in Russia is negligent.
EMBASSY AND CULTURAL CENTER
The Indian Embassy to Russia is located in Moscow, with consulates in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. The Embassy was first established in 1947, in the then Soviet Union. H.E. D.B. Venkatesh Varma is the current Ambassador of India to Russia.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Center was opened in March 1988, with the aim to "further strengthen the traditionally rich cultural cooperation and affinity between the people of India and Russia." ("Embassy of India, Moscow (Russia)," n.d.).
The Embassy recently concluded its Festival of India in Russia, which lasted from September 2018 to March 2019. This represents the second such festival held in Russia, the first one "Apna Ustav" was organised in 1987.
Indian cuisine is one of the most recognized cuisines at the global level, and represents one of India's strongest Soft Power Assets. With regards to Russia, there is a declining trend in the import of food products from India to Russia between 2014 to 2017. While this is not a problem in of itself, Figure 3 shows that the proportion of Russia's total food product imports that is from India is also declining to the lowest it has been between 2014 -2017.
Yoga represents arguably India's most widespread cultural exports. And yoga has been immensely popular in Russia, primarily among younger people. However, Yoga's inherent connections to Hinduism have created issues in so far as discussing its religious and spiritual elements in public forums (Payne, 2017). Despite this however, the total number of Yoga studios in the country have increased significantly, with over half of them coming in the last 3 years.
Yoga is still primarily limited to Russia's major cities, with Moscow having the highest number of Yoga studios in the country.
There are about a thousand Spa-centers in Russia and roughly half of them offer services based on Ayurvedic techniques (different types of Ayurvedic massage, herbal steam baths etc.). Russian doctors are also eager to use some of the Ayurvedic preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitation methods and medicines in their medical practice, and to refer their patients to registered Ayurvedic centers in order to achieve better results. Russian patients, adults and children alike, have a positive attitude towards and a good response to Ayurvedic methods and techniques that have proven to be successful both as complementary and as alternative treatment.
The Russians are increasingly turning to Ayurvedic practitioners and their methods for treatment of chronic diseases and rehabilitation after serious illnesses, although less so for prevention and health maintenance. There has been a large increase in the public interest in Ayurvedic treatments. While the number of those who turned to Ayurvedic methods and techniques in 1995 was some 2,000 people, today this number has reached several thousand, with an approximate annual growth of about 100%.
Every year, up to 10,000 Russian citizens travel to India for treatment and improving their general health – and that is to the state of Kerala alone.
CUISINE AND HOSPITALITY
There is little doubt that Indian cuisine is one of the most recognized cuisines at the global level, with Indian restaurants being mainstays in all major cities around the world. Given the apparent popularity of Indian food therefore, it is imperative that we examine its role in India’s wider soft power strategy.
Indian Cuisine in Russia, much like the rest of the world is still facing the struggle of overcoming a perception of being “takeaway food” – with the majority of Indian restaurants in Russia catering to a middle to lower middle class customer demographic.