02 February 2023

Soviet foreign policy in India during the Cold War

In his PhD thesis, Severyan Dyakonov opens new perspectives on the history of the Cold War and decolonisation. Based on previously unexplored Russian, Indian, American and British archival data, he explores the objectives of Soviet foreign policy in India during the Cold War and their perception by Indians. 

How did you come to choose your research topic?  

I have always been interested in the history of disparity in economic development among different countries depending on the choice of modernisation patterns. The case of India after independence was especially telling because of the Indian efforts to integrate socialist and liberal economy ideals into one economic model. I wanted to explore how Indians accepted or rejected Soviet programmes in their country and what means the Soviets used to promote their vision of development. 

What are your major findings?

One of the main findings is that Moscow stopped concentrating its efforts on solely supporting the Communist Party of India and expanded its target to the larger Indian public opinion to influence it toward the left. One of the major successes of Soviet public diplomacy programmes in India came from the involvement of the Indian public that sought friendly relations with the USSR through participation in Indian civic organisations such as the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society that had branches in major Indian cities. It seems that many Indians wanted good relations with the USSR to maintain their security and in this way tie the USSR to India. In this context, Moscow could not abandon India during an international crisis and lose important supporters in Asia. 

What are you doing now?

When I was working on my PhD project, I came across documents of the Soviet Red Cross Society in Delhi. I realised that the underexplored topic of Soviet Red Cross efforts in newly decolonised countries would not fit into my PhD project but merits separate research. In 2022, I received Postdoc Mobility funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation for my new project – The Soviet Red Cross and the International League of the Red Cross in Geneva in the 1950s-1980s – that I am currently pursuing at Harvard University and at New York University in the fall of 2023. I also received a further postdoctoral fellowship from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to continue this project in 2024 at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I also hope to use this opportunity to publish my thesis as a book at a university publishing house.

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Severyan Dyakonov defended his PhD thesis in International History in September 2022. Associate Professor Amalia Ribi Forclaz presided the committee, which included Professor Jussi Hanhimäki, Thesis Supervisor, and Mr Alessandro Iandolo, Lecturer, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London (UCL).

Citation of the PhD thesis:
Dyakonov, Severyan. “Soviet Public Diplomacy in India during the Cold War, 1959–1965.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2022.

For access to the PhD thesis, please contact Severyan Dyakonov at

Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office. 
Banner picture: excerpt from an image by vladm/