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Mainstream, VOL LII No 51, December 13, 2014

Putin’s Visit and India-Russia Summit

Monday 15 December 2014, by Arun Mohanty

This was the fifteenth annual summit between India and Russia but since this happened to be the first summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a swiftly changing global geopolitical environment, there were strategic affairs experts predicting a certain degree of uncertainty in the cooperation between the two time-tested, all-weather, special and strategic partners. The latest Indo-Russian summit after a new government came to power in Delhi and Russia’s increasing but irrational international isolation through imposition of sanctions reminiscent of the Cold War days has absolutely belied the predictions about increasing loss of significance of the Indo-Russian strategic partnership. This summit will go down in the annals of Indo-Russian time-tested relationship as yet another genuine milestone, highlighting the unique nature and continuity in our close relations. The summit has once again proved that there is a consensus in India as far as our strategic relationship with Russia is concerned., and change of government in either capital does not really affect this partnership.

The current summit happening in the back-drop of US warnings against India was yet another test of India’s strategic autonomy in the domain of foreign policy-making. Ahead of President Putin’s visit, the US State Department had issued an unambiguous warning to India saying this is not the time to do business with Russia. The current Indo-Russian summit, roughly one-and-a-half months before US President Obama’s trip to India, took place under the shadow of this US warning. US Deputy Secretary of State Marie Harf, in her briefing on the eve of President Putin’s visit to India, had issued the warning that “this is not the time to do business as usual with Russia, and we have conveyed this to our partners across the world.” This was no doubt a veiled threat to countries wishing to pursue indepen-dent foreign policy.

“I know there is a lot of rumours, often of trade deals, or economic deals, but let us see what is actually put into practice. Let us wait and see what comes from the visit;” said the US Deputy Secretary of State. So India was aware that Washington was carefully watching President Putin’s India visit, making the summit a test of India’s autonomy in foreign policy-making.

That India steadfastly refused to fall in line with the US and went ahead in doing business with its time-tested friend—Russia—is a clear testimony of the fact that India will not succumb under pressure while strengthening its ties with Russia. On President Putin’s arrival in Delhi Prime Minister Modi tweeted that “times have changed but our friendship has not“ and he looks forward to having a “productive visit that will take Indo-Russian ties to newer heights“, suggesting that he was ready to take forward our special and privileged strategic partnership without succumbing to any outside pressure.

Describing the bonds between our two countries “very strong”, Prime Minister Modi further said “our nations have stood by each other through thick and thin”, thus stressing the solid foundation and emotional aspect of the enduring friendship. During the first ever meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Fortaleza, our Prime Minister had said: “Every child in India knows that Russia is our best friend.”

The summit also proved the India’s relationship with Russia stands on its own merits, independent of its ties with other major powers.

Our strategic pundits—who wonder what Russia, a poor shadow of the mighty USSR, can offer to India—should not lose sight of the fact that Russia remains a strong pillar for India’s development, security and international relations. That is why Modi said that the nature of global politics and international relations might be changing but that does not change the importance of Indo-Russian relationship and Russia’s unique place in Indian foreign policy. The Prime Minister’s statement that the signifi-cance of our strategic partnership will grow further in future refutes the assessment of a part of our strategic community trying to belittle the strength and nature of the abiding Indo-Russian strategic partnership.

During the summit both sides expressed confidence that a strong bilateral strategic partnership advances the national interests of the two countries and contributes to a more stable and secure world order. The two countries have resolved to strengthen this partnership over the next decade through concrete initiatives in diverse areas and to make a bilateral institutional dialogue architecture more result-oriented and forward-looking. While leaders of both countries would continue to meet on the sidelines of international fora, the annual summit would review the progress and supervise the realisation of the vision of Indo-Russian partnership.

In an era of US unilateralism and attempts to build a unipolar world, the Joint Statement issued at the end of the summit highlights both sides’ commitment to upholding the principles of international law and promoting the central role of the UN in international relations. Delhi and Moscow have resolved to work together to evolve a polycentric and democratic world order based on the shared interests of all countries. The two states will work for democratisation of the global political, economic, financial and social institutions so that these institutions better represent the aspirations and interests of all segments of the international community.

Though the Joint Statement is silent on the situation in and around Ukraine, India’s opposition to economic sanctions imposed without the approval of the United Nations Security Council is a clear demonstration of solidarity with Russia. Here it should be remembered that Russia had opposed the Western sanctions imposed on Delhi in the wake of India’s nuclear tests in 1998. The presence of Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov in Delhi and his interactions with Indian businessmen are viewed by some as yet another show of Indian solidarity with Russia that had steadfastly stood by us during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. It is important to note here that while asked about Russia’s annexation of Crimea that Deklhi refused to condemn, Prime Minister Modi, in a clear dig at the US policy, said: “In the world right now, a lot of people want to give us advice. But look within them, they too have sinned.”

Delhi and Moscow have reaffirmed the need for reforming the UN Security Council in order to make it more representative and effective in dealing with emerging challenges. They agree that any expansion of the Security Council should reflect contemporary realities. The sides will work together to ensure reforms of the UN Security Council with that end in view. Russia, which was one of the very first few countries to stand by us on the issue, has once again promised to extend its support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the Council.

 The two countries have expressed their readiness to continue consultations and coordi-nation in multilateral fora such as G-20, EAS, BRICS and RIC. Russia has promised to leave no stone unturned to see that India becomes a full member of the SCO following the completion of all required procedural negotiations during the organisation’s Ufa summit next year.

 While discussing the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, both sides supported the idea of evolution of an open, balanced and inclusive security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region based on collective efforts, taking into conside-ration the legitimate interests of all states of the region and guided by respect for the norms and principles of international law.

 While discussing the regional hot spots and conflicts, Delhi and Moscow have stressed to find solutions to them exclusively through dialogue and peaceful means avoiding unilateral use of force, which is a clear criticism of the unilateral Western military interventions in different regions of the world.

Altogether 20 agreements—seven at the government-to-government level and thirteen at the private sector level—have been signed as a result of the summit; these are all designed to bolster cooperation in various areas. What is noteworthy is that for the first time more agreements have been signed to boost coope-ration between the private sectors or between state-run companies and private players. For the first time under an agreement, Russia’s energy major Rosneft would supply one million tonnes of crude oil to ISAR, one of India’s top private players, for refining it in the latter’s facilities in India. ISAR and VTB have signed a deal on the financial aspects for implementing this deal. India’s Tata Power and Russia’s Direct Investment Fund have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for bolstering cooperation in the energy sector. This is an important development in the backdrop of the fact that Indo-Russian economic relations are largely government-led; this needs to be corrected given the fact that the bulk of the economy in both countries is in the private sector. FICCI and its counterpart, Delovoi Russia, have signed a deal for providing impetus to the sagging bilateral trade and economic relations.

Indeed, all the components of our strategic partnership have received additional impetus as a result of this summit. First of all, a path- breaking strategic vision document has been signed to bolster our cooperation in the vital nuclear sector. Russia, which has already built two nuclear reactors at Kudankulam, would now build another at least 10 reactors in the next several years, out of which four reactors would be built in the same place in Tamil Nadu and another six would be built in a site that has not been decided so far. Russia has expressed its desire to play a significant role in India’s nuclear industry by building altogether 25 reactors in coming years. Here, there are a number of advantages in our cooperation with Russia. First of all, we have traditional cooperation for a number of years. Secondly, unlike the US, Russia does not attach political conditions to cooperation in this major sector. For example, if the US builds a nuclear plant in India and Delhi at any stage decides to go for further nuclear tests, Washington in that case would take back everything from the project. Thirdly, the US has not built a single reactor in the last 12-13 years and apparently lags behind Russia in the area. Fourthly, India and Russia have reached some kind of understanding on India’s controversial liability law while the US firmly opposes that. Last but not the least, Russia’s reactors are considered the safest in the world. However, the US, that has facilitated our access to the NSG and expects a chunk of India’s nuclear reactors’ market, will most likely be very much irked by the Indo-Russian strategic nuclear deal. In this connection, if US Deputy Secretary of State Marie Harf’s statement is any indication, the Indo-Russian nuclear deal is going to cause a lot of hearburning in Washington. Harf has stated that Washington and Delhi have agreed in the Joint Statement to establish a contact group for advancing implementation of civil nuclear energy cooperation, which will address administrative issues, liability, technical issues, licensing and other topics as required. She went on to say: “I know there is a lot of rumours, often of trade deeds or economic deals, but let us see what is actually put into practice. Let us wait and see what comes from Putin’s India visit.” The statement speaks for itself.

Hydrocarbon is another strategic area which has received boost as a result of a number of deals signed between ONGC, Oil India, ISAR, Tata Energy on one hand and Russia’s power majors like GAZPROM, Rosneft, Zarobezhneft etc. on the other. India would go for new acquisitions in East Siberia and both countries have decided to launch joint exploration in the Arctic. Progress has been made in the area of Russian LNG supplies to India and active discussions are on for bringing Russian hydrocarbon to India through pipelines.

Defence, which has remained a core sector of our strategic cooperation for decades, has received a further boost as a result of President Putin’s discussions in Delhi. Notwithstanding all the talk about declining bilateral defence cooperation, Russia still remains our military hardware supplier with almost 70 per cent of our defence procurements coming from Moscow. The fact that during the five years ending 2013, Russia accounted for 75 per cent of India’s procurement whereas the US accounted for just seven per cent speaks for itself. Our traditional cooperation in this vital sector has moved from just buyer-seller relationship to the domain of increasing joint research, development, and BrahMos missile, fifth generation fighter jet, multi-role transport aircraft etc. are a few glaring examples of such beneficial cooperation.

Russia has started participating in our “Make in India”programme before it was announced by the Modi Government. Such sophisticated military hardware like Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets, T-90 tanks, missiles are already being built here for years. President Putin’s current visit has resulted in an agreement for production of advanced helicopters in India, which was lauded by Prime Minister Modi. Production of Sukhoi Superjet-100, MS-21passengers aircraft in India are under active discussion by both sides.

In order to boost the flagging trade and economic relations, agreements have been reached for the supply of rough diamonds worth $ 2.1 billion in the next three years by Russia to India; fertiliser, pharmaceuticals have been identified as promising areas for increased cooperation. Both sides have set a target of $ 30 billion worth trade turnover and $ 30 billion investment in each other’s country by the year 2025. It has been decided to accelerate the functioning of the North-South International Transport Corridor and sign a Free Trade Area and Comprehensive Economic Cooperation agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union for strengthening trade and economic cooperation.

On the whole, the fifteenth Indo-Russian summit will go down in the history of bilateral relationship as yet another new milestone, taking the time-tested, all weather, special and privileged strategic partnership to a new level.

Prof Arun Mohanty, Chairperson, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is the Director, Eurasian Foundation.