History of diplomatic contacts between Russia and India in the 17th century
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History of diplomatic contacts between Russia and India in the 17th century

Till early 17th century Russians had a very sketchy and rather naïve knowledge of India. It started changing slowly in 1630s when first Indian merchants started settling in the port city of Astrakhan at the Caspian Sea.

They were granted permission to trade in goods in inner Russian cities including Moscow, where some of them settled. They were so successful that in 1684 Russian merchants wrote a letter to the Tsar requesting expulsion of the Indians to Astrakhan. The Indians immediately wrote their own letter to Tsar where they have shown how many taxes they pay. No surprise, that the request of the Russian businesspersons was rejected.

This Astrakhan-based business community, hailing mostly from Sindh, ceased to exist in early 1920s because of the diminishing opportunities in trade after the October Revolution.

As you know, our diplomatic relations were established in 1947. But the first attempt was undertaken by Russia 301 years prior to that – in 1646. Tsar Alexei sent the first India mission headed by Nikita Siroyezkin through Persia. But the Persian Shah Abbas was at that time at war with Shah Jahan and did not allow them to pass.

Second mission headed by Rodion Pushnikov was sent in 1651, but it was harassed, robbed and blackmailed in Persia and thus failed to reach India.

In 1662, there were attempts to buy ships and send the mission to India by sea, but the Germans refused to provide the ships.

In 1670, Boris Pazukhin was sent to Bukhara to explore a rout through Central Asia.

In 1675, a resident of Astrakhan Mohammed Kasimov was sent to India by this route. He reached Kabul, but Aurangzeb who was stationed in Punjub at that time turned down the initiative. He reportedly was unimpressed with the Russian goods, and sited religion as well as lack of knowledge about Russia as a reason not to establish diplomatic ties.

In 1695, the fourth mission headed by Semyon Malenkiy was send via Persia. Despite all odds, he managed to cross Persia without big losses, and reached Surat. He managed to meet Aurangzeb. In Moscow, the protocol instructed the envoy under no circumstances to kiss his feet, only to make a standard bow. Aurangzeb granted Russia permission to trade and gifted the envoy a baby elephant. Altogether Malenkiy spent three years in India. On the way back he lost half of the goods he carried back due to pirate activities near Muscat. He died in Persia, and only after some years that one of his fellow travelers reported to Moscow about the trip and shared the documents.

By that time, the Mughal Empire started falling apart. European powers established control over the foreign trade with India. Hence, the diplomatic relations were established only after 250 years.