BENAULIM (GOA): Amid a note of dissonance over the issue of Russia’s joint military drills with Pakistan, India has voiced confidence that Moscow will reflect on New Delhi’s concerns as it unveiled an ambitious multifarious agenda to galvanize the special and privileged strategic partnership between the two countries.
In an attempt to downplay Moscow’s military outreach to Islamabad, India’s ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran indicated that a specific incident or episode should not be allowed to shadow the India-Russian relationship, which is special in many ways.
“It’s not legitimate to reduce the relationship to what happened a few days ago,” Mr Saran said when asked by India Writes Network on whether the Pakistan-Russia joint exercises have cast a shadow over the so-called special and privileged relationship between New Delhi and Moscow.
“We have conveyed our concerns to the Russian side. We are confident that Russia will reflect on our concerns,” the Indian envoy told reporters at Taj Exotica Hotel, the venue of the 17thIndia-Russia annual summit and the 8th BRICS summit.
The Indian envoy struck an upbeat note on the trajectory of India-Russia relations a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s annual meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Goa onOctober 15. India has rolled out the red carpet to welcome Mr Putin to revivify the crucial strategic partnership that has seen some wrinkles in the past few months due to conflicted perceptions on India’s growing strategic proximity with the US and Russia’s overtures to Pakistan. “It’s more than a relationship, it’s a partnership marked by mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual understanding,” said Mr Saran. It may be logistics, but in a special gesture President Putin is the only leader who will be staying at the same hotel as Mr Modi in Goa.
What’s on agenda?
Mr Saran underscored that there will be a broad menu of issues for the Modi-Putin meeting, which will be reflective of the special nature of the relationship.
The Modi-Putin meeting is expected to culminate in a host of substantive outcomes in diverse areas, including civil nuclear energy, hydrocarbons, defence, trade and investment, innovation and new technologies. The two leaders are expected to formally launch the units III and IV of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) via a satellite link and move ahead with negotiations on units V and VI. Russia has pledged to build 12 nuclear reactors in India, which makes it the largest partner in India’s plans to upscale the share of atomic electricity in its national energy mix.
Re-setting Defence Ties
The defence ties, the central pillar of India-Russia relationship, is set for an upgrade with the sealing of a slew of multi-billion dollar defence deals, which will re-entrench Moscow’s pre-eminence as the top defence partner of India. These could include the purchase of 5 S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range air defence missile systems, joint production of Kamov-28 helicopters and modernisation of the Sukhoi 30-MKIs, confirmed officials. The joint development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the joint production of Kamov-226 light choppers are also expected to see tangible progress, said reliable sources. PM Modi is pushing to blend Make in India and localisation into these defence deals.
The focus will be on placing the India-Russia defence relations in the changed geopolitical context wherein India has ramped up its defence supplies from the US and other partners, evoking anxieties in the Russian strategic establishment that India is becoming a military ally of the US. the US’ decision to elevate India to the status of a major defence partner, entitling it to transfer of sensitive military technologies hitherto reserved for the closest US allies, and the signing of the Logistics Exchange Agreement have created much resentment in Moscow. Against this backdrop, PM Modi is expected to reassure President Putin by stating emphatically that India is not into zero sum games and despite New Delhi’s growing relationship with Washington, Moscow remains India’s most important strategic and defence partner.
Forging Energy Bridge
The summit meeting is set to see a major forward movement in the area of hydrocarbons, with some high-value deals expected to be signed between Indian and Russian energy majors. The creation of an energy bridge between India and Russia, which could lead to the direct supply of Russian gas to India via pipelines, is poised be a key outcome. With the Russian economy on a downward spiral and stagnating oil prices, President Putin has prioritised enhancing energy cooperation with leading Asian economies like India and China. Indian energy companies, including private players like Reliance and Essar, are planning investment worth over $15 billion in Russia’s energy sector. Russia sees the participation of Indian companies as crucial to the success of its oil industry privatisation programme, which is projected to bring billions of dollars in revenues and investment over the next two years.
Diversifying the economic relationship, which has remained heavily centred on the purchase of Russian military hardware by India, will be an important priority. In this regard, the two sides have identified priority sectors like high-end engineering, high-value manufacturing, diamonds, IT, mining, railways, innovation/start-ups, pharmaceuticals, education and tourism. Russia is looking for greater investment from Indian pharma companies to partner in its ongoing Pharma 2020 project.
In the end, the importance of the Modi-Putin summit meeting will be assessed by the narrative coming out of Goa that despite recent differences emanating primarily from the alleged strategic promiscuity by both New Delhi and Moscow, the India-Russia partnership will continue to be special and pivotal to core national interests of the two countries. Hopefully, this rejuvenated relationship will be more realistic as the two partners diversify their external relationships to suit their interests without compromising on their enduring commitment to each other.
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