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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 52, December 12, 2009

Indo-Russian Strategic Partnership Enters New Stage

Saturday 12 December 2009, by Arun Mohanty


India and Russia value their regular annual summits as the principal vehicle to advance their strategic partnership in different directions. The agenda of regular Indo-Russian summits always cover bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual concern. The just concluded Indo-Russian summit at Moscow in this regard was no exception, and has no doubt pushed our strategic partnership to a new stage and provided a qualitatively new content to our time-tested relationship.

With the successful completion of the latest Indo-Russian summit, the much-talked about chill prevailing in our relations during the past two years seems to have become a thing of the past. This summit became the third meeting between our leaders in the current year, and Dr Manmohan Singh’s sixth visit to Russia since he took over as India’s Prime Minister, signifying the intense nature of interactions. The extraordinary warmth prevailing over the visit and the special gesture shown by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev through the hosting of a dinner at his Barvica country house for the visiting Indian Prime Minister, a rare honour no doubt, made the summit different from the other recent bilateral summits dogged by controversies and misunder-standings. This summit has been a milestone not only due to the warm gesture, but also because of its significance in substance.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow, coming on the heels of his visit to Washington, tempts one to compare the two summits, though each relationship perhaps stands on its own. At least our government wants us to believe that. The Washington summit was rich in gesture, rhetoric but almost hollow in substance in contrast to the Moscow summit that was rich both in gesture and content. Our expectations from the Washington summit were belied in contrast to the significant outcome of the Moscow summit that elevated the Indo-Russian strategic partnership to a new peak, prompting commentators to describe the Moscow summit as a path-breaking one.

Out of the total of six documents signed as a result of the summit, two agreements in the area of civil nuclear and defence cooperation need special mention, and in many ways these chart a new course

The breakthrough long-term agreement on bilateral nuclear cooperation that seeks to expand our relations in this vital area in an unprecedented manner is devoid of any conditionality on India and provides guarantees against any curb in future. The agreement, hailed as a ‘major step forward in strengthening our existing cooperation in this field’ by the Indian Prime Minister, stipulates setting up more nuclear reactors in India, transferring a whole range of nuclear technologies and ensuring uninterrupted fuel supply indefinitely. The document paves the way for Indian access to Russian enrichment and refuelling technology and equipment, and clears the deck for greater cooperation in joint research, development and design for next generation reactors, taking our cooperation in this sensitive sphere to a qualitatively higher level.

The agreement gives reprocessing rights to India. Another advantage in the deal with Russia is that Russian reactors would be built under an advanced flow-line technology that reduces construction time and expenditure by 25-30 per cent.

The nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia is essentially different from 123 pact signed with the US that envisages not only ending of the ongoing nuclear cooperation but also the return of equipment and fuel supplied by the US, in case the nuclear agreement is terminated. While the 123 pact with the US is designed to keep India under US tentacles for ever, the agreement with Russia reflects mutual trust, goodwill, and the strategic nature of our time-tested relations. There is a vast difference between the agreement signed with the US in the sphere of nuclear cooperation and the one with Russia in the same field. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made it amply clear that Moscow will not accept any restriction imposed by any foreign country on its civil nuclear cooperation with New Delhi under any pressure. Replying to a pointed question if Russia would continue unrestricted nuclear cooperation with India despite the G-8 resolution restricting the sale of reprocessing technologies to non-NPT countries, President Medvedev stressed that the ‘resolution does not change anything in our cooperation’. Under the agreement, Russia is expected to build 12-14 reactors in India’s east coast.

Though the US facilitated the clean waiver for India at the NSG, it is trying to impose restrictions on nuclear trade with India through the G-8. Moscow, which signed the historic document risking a lot of possible rebuke and criticism at the G-8, NSG and IAEA, once again demonstrated that it is our genuine strategic partner, and a true and trusted friend forever.

The agreement helps India establish itself as a buyer’s market. We have inked agreements with France and Canada for nuclear cooperation. The agreement with Moscow would push the companies in France, Canada and the US to lobby their governments for ensuring smooth nuclear trade with India. This would be only to the advantage of India. However, Russia should be treated as our preferred partner in the area in the coming years.

The second document that draws attention is the framework agreement for augmentation of our vital defence cooperation, an important component of our strategic partnership, in the next decade covering the period up to 2020. The significance of the document lies in the fact that it would provide the basis and thrust to joint research, development and manufacturing in our defence cooperation—imparting a new dimension to our defence relations. Joint development and manufacturing of fifth generation aircraft, multi-role transport aircraft, hypersonic missile–a developed version of the supersonic BrahMos—are some of the big-ticket projects slated to be implemented under the pact. The agreement also looks for smooth post-sale service and maintenance of military hardware acquired by India from Russia—often a vexed issue in our ongoing defence cooperation.

Another key area in which our cooperation is likely to get impetus as a result of the Moscow summit is hydrocarbon. Moscow is destined to play a substantial role in ensuring our energy security. With our cooperation in the nuclear field getting a boost in this direction, hydrocarbon is emerging as another key area of vital cooperation for meeting our energy requirements. India has already invested $ 2.7 billion in the Sakhalin oil and gas project, which is India’s largest investment abroad, and it has purchased Imperial Energy operating in Russia for $ 2.58, which has increased our profile in Russia’s vast energy sector. As a result of the Indian Prime Minister’s talks with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, both countries are poised to have enhanced cooperation in energy with India getting access to the Trebs and Titov oilfields in the Timan Pechora region. India also stands a fairly good chance of entering the huge Sakhalin-3 energy project if foreign participation is permitted by the Russian authorities, and it seems to have received a very positive response from the Russian leadership on this score. The ONGC Videsh Limited has entered into agreements with the Russian oil and gas majors, Rosneft and Gazprom, for studying investment opportunities in this sector in both countries.


The long Joint Statement issued at the end of the Moscow summit throws light on our cooperation on a host of important issues of mutual concern.

As usual, terrorism was at the top of the agenda at the Moscow summit. The joint Statement emphasises that both sides are convinced that the international community should enhance efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and calls for an early adoption of the comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Both sides have expressed their
desire to further develop bilateral cooperation in combating new challenges and threats, including such cooperation within the framework of the Russia-India Working Group on Combating International Terrorism and agreed for greater intelligence sharing.

Obviously, in this context Afghanistan was discussed in detail at the summit. New Delhi and Moscow share similar views on the Afghan issue. Both sides have stressed that resurgence of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan threatens the progress made over the last few years. Noting that the fight against terrorism cannot be selective, both sides believe that drawing false distinctions between ‘good’ and ’bad’ Taliban would be counter-productive. India and Russia displayed a strong convergence in refuting the good Talban and bad Taliban formulation, describing it as ‘facile’ and projecting the urgency of mopping up terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. Both countries dismiss the good Taliban theory that is seen as a bid to work out a deal with a section of the terror outfit currently operating in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan. A section of the US establishment seems to have been tempted to consider this option which has its backers in Pakistan. The good Taliban and bad Taliban theory is essentially a Pakistani trap to reinforce its hold over part of the terror outfits. The denunciation of the good Taliban argument ostensibly indicates a lack of patience with Pakistan’s move to differentiate the Taliban. The Statement in this regard is remarkable for the manner in which it reflects a close synergy in Indo-Russian perspectives that has received a boost as a result of the Moscow summit.

New Delhi and Moscow have had intensive discussions on the Af-Pak situation, and the convergence of their views on the issue has come out during the talks at Moscow. Both sides share concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into ‘wrong hands‘, and this was highlighted at the Moscow summit. Both countries have once again reaffirmed their long-term commitment to a democratic, pluralistic and stable Afghanistan.

The deliberations at Moscow touched China as well, and India explained the complexities of India’s relations with its giant neighbour. It seems both sides have exchanged views on issues related to China’s rise and its implications. In this context, Russia’s support for India’s full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is noteworthy. Russia has been advocating for India’s full membership in the SCO for some time but the very mention of this position for the first time in the Joint Statement is interesting particularly in the backdrop of the known Chinese opposition to this proposal.

India and Russia have welcomed the progress registered by the BRIC dialogue that plays an important role in the development of a multipolar world and formation of just, democratic world order. They believe that the first stand-alone BRIC summit at Yekaterinburg last June has provided it a clear direction for future growth and opened new vistas of cooperation in the coming years.

Welcoming the enhanced interactions in the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral format, New Delhi and Moscow appreciated the exchange of views on regional and global issues, and called for greater exchange of information and ideas on the current important subjects for the benefit of the peoples of the three countries, and for peace and stability in the region. The RIC had its ninth trilateral meeting of Foreign Ministers at Bengaluru last October, and the ninth trilateral Track-II academic meet was held in New Delhi from December 7 to 9, 2009. New Delhi and Moscow believe these Track-I and Track-II trilateral meetings help in improving understanding and strengthening peace and stability in the region.

Russia and India need each other much more than at any time after the Soviet break-up, particularly in the emerging multipolar world threatened to be dominated by G-2—Chimerica. The latest Moscow summit is no doubt a landmark event that has pushed our time-tested friendship and cooperation to a qualitatively new plateau and brought the two strategic partners closer.

Dr Arun Mohanty is an Associate Professor, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is also the Director, Eurasian Foundation.

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