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Mainstream, VOL LV No 9 New Delhi February 18, 2017

Russian Envoy with an Indian Heart

Tuesday 21 February 2017, by Arun Mohanty



Russia’s legendary ambassador to India, Alexander Mikhailovich Kadakin, known as Sasha Kadakin to thousands of his admirers, friends, well-wishers and colleagues across the country, passed away on January 26, India’s Republic Day, in a Delhi hospital. The entire conscious life of Kadakin, a great patriot of his country, champion of Indo-Russian friendship and sincere friend of our country, was deeply associated with India. Born in former Soviet republic Moldavia’s capital Kishinev, Sasha had his higher education from the Soviet Union‘s most prestigious Institute of International Relations, popularly known as MGIMO. Kadakin visited his dreamland India for the first time in 1971 while completing his graduation from this university. This was the year when a new country called Bangladesh appeared in the world map, thanks to the enormous Soviet help. This was the time when India was internationally isolated and there emerged a Washington-Beijing-Islamabad axis creating the most critical period for India’s sovereignty and independence. It is the great Soviet Union that came to our rescue at the time neutralising the unprecedented danger to our independence from the US-China-Pakistan axis.

There was an extraordinary and spontaneous outpour of sympathy for the Soviet Union on the Indian streets. Thousands of people spontaneously gathered on Shantipath in front of the Soviet embassy to express solidarity and gratitude to the Soviet people. Kadakin, who had just come to visit Delhi for the first time after his graduation, charmed the crowd with his chaste Hindi speech on Shantipath. Next year he joined the Soviet embassy. His entire life ever since got associated with India, his karmabhumi, as he used to say. He served in the embassy in various capacities from Attaché to Minister Counsellor, finally to get the most coveted post of Ambassador in the year 1999 at the age of barely 50. He was not only Russia’s longest serving Ambassador to India but served in this capacity twice till death snatched him away from us.

Kadakin served as the Russian ambassador with a passion, playing an important role in various periods of our relationship. Kadakin was aghast when there was an attempt in policy-making circles in Moscow to equate India with Pakistan in the aftermath of the Soviet break-up when Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev and his team wanted to ‘correct the Indian tilt’ in Moscow’s policy towards South Asia. Kozyrev ruthlessly fired very senior Russian diplomats who raised their voice against this policy. Kadakin survived and made his contribution to save the relationship from the brink of disaster.

Kadakin should be credited for coining the expression of continuity from Indo-Soviet to Indo-Russian friendship. In the post-Soviet Russia, particularly in the first half of the 1990s, it was fashionable to call oneself democrat by denouncing everything Soviet. Kadakin, brought up in the Soviet school of diplomacy, did not fall prey to the ‘fashion’, rightly singing the true virtues of friendship between India and the former Soviet Union. He made a contribution in mentioning the significance of the historic Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in our official bilateral documents signed since the end of the 1990s.

Kadakin, belonging to the Primakov school of thought, promoted the notion of multi-polarity as the cornerstone of the new emerging world order. He was a very strong votary of an India-Russia-China strategic triangle, a proposal floated by the veteran diplomat and thinker, Evgeny Primakov.

Kadakin’s ambassadorial assignment to India began when Putin came to power. Perhaps one of the most important feathers in his cap was his contribution to finalising the Delhi Declaration on Strategic Partnership signed in the year 2000 during President Putin’s first ever state visit to India that heralded a new chapter in Indo-Russian relationship and laid the foundation for the Putin era of time-tested friendship between Delhi and Moscow. This was the period when Indo-Russian relations regained much of its original robustness. This Declaration set the mechanism of Indo-Russian annual summits in motion, making it a rare phenomenon in international diplomacy. Sixteen summits held during this period have imparted a new dynamism to the time-tested relationship between the two countries.

Another significant achievement of Kadakin’s diplomacy was his contribution to impart special and privileged status to the booming strategic partnership. India has many strategic partners and so has Russia; however, for each other, we are special and privileged strategic partners since 2010.

Kadakin had very stoutly defended Indo-Russian relationship in the wake of the adverse media campaign in India. To those who said that Indo-Russian relationship had lost its past glamour, he used to say Indo-Russian relationship had graduated from the romantic infatuation of the initial period to matured pragmatism of the present. On the nuclear plant issue he would say that there were talks about the construction of nuclear reactors in India by several foreign countries but it was only Russian built reactors that were already generating nuclear energy for mass consumption. He would argue that nobody gave state of the art technology to India except Russia. He was of the opinion that in the first 50 years of India’s independence Russia built more than a hundred industrial enterprises that had laid the foundation for India’s industrial infrastructure. Indeed, that was India’s first ‘Make In India’ programme. He was sure Russia would play a major role in implementing the current Make In India programme of the country, foundation for which would be laid by the building of the Kamov helicopters, fifth generation aircraft, missiles, tanks and other hardware.

When it came to defending Russia’s national interest, he was very vocal, even used unconventional ways of going to the press. He was convinced that the tender route for military hardware acquisition was not healthy and fair, and was to the disadvantage of Russia, arguing in favour of the inter-governmental protocol mechanism. He was vociferous in his criticism about the Systema investment controversy and won the battle for his country.

Kadakin closely knew top political leaders of India across party lines. He was particularly close to Indian Prime Ministers like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Mrs Gandhi had once taken personal interest in Kadakin’s treatment when he fell sick. No wonder Manmohan Singh, Narendra Modi have expressed profound sorrow and condolences at his untimely death. Armed with perfect Hindi and Urdu, Kadakin was head and shoulder above most foreign ambassadors in the Indian Capital. His profound knowledge of India, love for Indian culture and history made him one of the most outstanding foreign envoys in India.

All said and done, Kadakin was no doubt sometimes worried about certain zigzags in the bilateral relationship and tried his best to restore the robustness of our cooperation. He raised his voice to defend the special friendship with India in the face of the media bashing of Russia in the wake of his country’s planned military exercise with Pakistan. It was under Ambassador Kadakin’s suggestion that the site of the joint military exercise was shifted from Pak-occupied Kashmir to another site. Kadakin emphatically declared that Russia will never take any action that would have any implication for India’s security, and this was the bottom-line. He gave a lot of importance to the bringing up of the young generation and was a frequent guest at JNU events. He had given us the idea to have an international young scholars seminar at JNU involving students from Russia, particularly MGIMO, his alma mater. This year also we had a similar academic exercise at JNU on February 3, to which Kadakin had promised to come as the chief guest. But alas, we lost him in the middle of preparations for the seminar.

Kadakin was a regular guest at JNU, which celebrates the Russian spring festival, Maslinitsa, on an annual basis. He along with Sverdolov region’s Governor were present during last year’s Maslinitsa celebrations at the JNU grounds. Kadakin charmed the students and professors in his chaste Hindi speech as always. This year when JNU prepares for Maslenitsa celebrations he would be obviously dearly missed.

I always treasured my personal association with Alexander Mikhailovich. Last year I had the honour of accompanying him to the Kulu valley to participate in a seminar dedicated to the Roerichs, the symbol of Indo-Russian friendship. Kadakin sat under a tree near some idols to perform puja as the Roerichs used to worship the idols. It was 1st May that combined the international labour day as well as Easter according to the Orthodox calender that year. Kadakin threw a huge dinner in the Kulu King’s palace in the evening. All Russian delicacies along with the choicest Russian vodka were served at the dinner. Alexander Mikhailovich, the soul of the company, raised toast after toast; narrated about his close association with Svetoslav Roerich and his wife Devika Rani, the popular actress of the Indian silver screen of yester-year, and their profound love for India.

On January 13 this year, he organised a huge reception at the embassy premises to celebrate the old new year and Orthodox Christian Christmas with a lot of fanfare. Kadakin had introduced this wonderful tradition to promote Russia’s soft-power image, a unique event no other diplomatic mission can ever boast of. Alas, that turned out to be the last grand reception thrown by Alexander Mikhailovich, a sort of farewell party to thousands of his friends and admirers in the Capital.

He left the mundane world in the early hours of 26th January, India’s Republic Day, breathing his last on Indian soil. It was raining throughout the day in torrents in the Capital, an usual phenomenon for this part of the year, as if nature was grieving over Kadakin’s unexepected demise. Alexander Mikhailovich Kadakin will always live in the memories of thousands of his friends, admirers and well-wishers in India.

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

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