The intricate machinery of time-tested India-Russia relationship is set to hum with a new decadal vision of this crucial partnership and get an added diamond sparkle in economic ties when Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his first annual summit meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi December 11.
Fresh impetus, and a new roadmap
Ahead of the presidential trip, India has struck an upbeat note on the future trajectory of the relationship and hoped that President Putin’s visit will be “a landmark event” and is “expected to provide a fresh impetus to the existing excellent bilateral relations between our two countries.” Mr Ajay Bisaria, joint secretary in charge of Russia and Eurasia, says the summit will lead to the spelling out by the two leaders of a joint vision of our relationship for the next decade. “It will provide a roadmap for enhancing the partnership between our two countries to qualitatively new levels.” The vision document is expected to silence sceptics who have been grousing that the India-Russia relations have drifted in the conflicted geopolitical landscape of the time. The oft-iterated lament has, however, gained a new salience recently with Russia’s contentious decision to go ahead and sign a defence pact with Pakistan, which could entail the sale of military hardware to Islamabad, a development New Delhi is upset about but has chosen to play it down keeping the big picture in mind. It’s not clear if there is a message Moscow is sending to New Delhi, which some sections of Russian diplomatic-strategic community see as getting into the American orbit or whether the pact with Pakistan was done in view of Russia’s concerns about the fluid situation in Afghanistan in the backdrop of the ongoing withdrawal of foreign combat troops. Whatever the reality and imperatives may be, for now the two strategic partners are focusing on ramping up their relationship to the next level by pragmatically acknowledging some areas of disagreement, but taking a big-picture view of their solid and time-tested partnership.
India ‘not party to sanctions’
India, on its part, has underlined the centrality of Indo-Russian relations to the country’s foreign policy calculus by stressing that the sheer scope and depth of India-Russia relations is without parallel. At a time when Moscow is getting globally isolated on account of its Ukraine policy, New Delhi has emphatically reiterated that “it cannot be party to any sanctions against Russia.” “We have an identity or similarity of views with Russia on important global issues including on threats from terrorism, particularly in our shared neighbourhood, on multi-polarity as an important element in the global architecture and the need to defuse the cold war-like tensions that are increasingly manifesting themselves in global relations,” Mr Bisaria told journalists in a pre-visit briefing December 5.
Scaling up economic ties
In a way, the sanctions against Russia may open new doors for enhancing trade and investment. Fittingly, a key focus of President Putin’s visit will be on ramping up economic ties, an underperforming area which has not kept pace with the level of robust strategic partnership the two countries have forged over a period of time. The India-Russia bilateral trade is estimated to be around $10 billion. At the forthcoming summit, the two countries should raise the bar and set an ambitious target of doubling bilateral trade by 2016-18. In this context, the two sides are expected to unveil pacts on joint production and development of civilian airplanes, which will complement other initiatives that will make Russia an important partner in Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. The two sides are also expected to firm up Russian involvement in developing smart cities in India – another pet project of Mr Modi. In this context, Russian telecommunication giant Sistema could be involved as a partner in building a smart city in India, possibly in Rajasthan.
Energy cooperation is poised for a major boost, with Russia planning to offer India more oil and gas blocks in Siberia and Russian Far East, leading to increased investment by India’s oil major OVL in Russian energy fields.
Diamonds are forever
Diamonds are forever, and will cast their radiance on the forthcoming presidential visit as Mr Putin is set to attend a diamond conference in New Delhi, with the larger plan of making India into a major global diamond processing hub. Alrosa, Russia’s diamond giant, is expected to seal deals with Indian diamond traders that will enable the latter to get stones directly from Russia.
Besides the economic-related pacts, there will be a clutch of agreements in areas ranging from of defence, nuclear energy and culture. “About 15 important bilateral documents are expected to be signed, including some in the field of military-technical cooperation,” Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin told Russian journalists ahead of Mr Putin’s visit.
Arc of Convergence: The Road Ahead
President Putin’s first visit to India under the new dispensation in New Delhi is, therefore, poised to be substantive and all-encompassing, reaffirming the pivotal place both countries occupy in each other’s strategic calculus amid the vagaries of international politics. The messaging from both sides is distinctly upbeat. “With regard to the upcoming visit, we expect President Putin to confirm the immutability of our policy of friendship, cooperation, and special and privileged strategic partnership. India was, is, and will be our best friend,” says the Russian envoy. Mr Modi, who has met President Putin twice on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil in July and G-20 summit in Brisbane, is an ardent proponent of invigorating special and privileged India-Russia partnership and regards relations with Russia India’s key foreign policy priority. With such a large arc of convergence of interests in diverse areas that could handle minor dissonance deftly, the India-Russia relations look set to acquire a new vigour and direction in days to come.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal and e-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story).
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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