Where are the much-touted wrinkles in India-Russia ties? On one of the coldest days in New Delhi, there was much warmth and genuine mutual goodwill when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sat down for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his 7 Race Course Road residence. It was a spirited conversation between the leaders of the two countries who see their strategic partnership as an anchor of stability in a rapidly mutating world order. It wasn’t just bilateral issues they discussed, but their talks encompassed the world’s hot spots, including Afghanistan, Syria and Iran, which were marked by a rare congruence of perspectives.
Manmohan Singh’s admiration for his Russian guest and the critical importance of Russia in India’s foreign policy calculus was there for all to see. “We deeply value Russia’s steadfast friendship and support for India, unaffected by global developments. This relationship has a special place in the hearts and minds of Indians and India remains committed to further deepening it,” said Manmohan Singh at a joint press appearance with Putin, the original architect of the privileged and special partnership between the two time-tested partners.
Reinvigorating their multi-faceted ties, India and Russia signed ten agreements in diverse areas, including multi-billion dollar weapons deals, and resolved to fast-track negotiations to conclude pact on units III and IV of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
Against the backdrop of the 2014 withdrawal of intternational combat troops from Afghanistan, India and Russia also agreed to cooperate closely to combat extremism and drug-trafficking in that country. In a boost to India’s quest for ridding the region of the curse of cross-border terrorism, Russia joined hands with India to thwart safe sanctuaries of terror and strongly condemned the states that aid or sponsor them – a veiled allusion to Pakistan.
The leaders of the two emerging economies also decided to step up collaboration in a host of multilateral fora, including the UN, BRICS and the East Asia summit and agreed to join hands for speedier global economic recovery.
After the talks, the two sides signed ten agreements in diverse areas, including foreign office consultations; cultural exchanges; science, technology and innovation; telecommunications; financing of projects and promoting investments.
There was visible progress on some contentious issues that have provided fodder to cynics who never tire of conjuring up clouds in India-Russia ties.
Issues relating to the Russian telecom giant Sistema’s $3.1 billion investment also figured in the discussions, with India assuring that an amicable solution will be found soon.
Against the backdrop of differences over the application of civil nuclear liability law to units III and IV of KNPP, Manmohan Singh said: “Negotiations for the construction of Units 3 and 4 at Kudankulam have made good progress.”
“The sides agreed to conclude expeditiously the negotiations on the techno-commercial offer for the construction of Units 3 & 4,” said a joint statement. The two sides also underscored their commitment to implementing the roadmap for cooperation for the serial construction of Russian-designed nuclear reactors that was signed during Putin’s visit in 2010 as the then prime minister of Russia.
The differences will, however, take some time to be bridged, but given the depth and sincerity in India-Russia friendship, as Russia’s long-time ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin likes to remind sceptics, there is no issue that can’t be resolved between the two close friends.
Russia has contended that the civil nuclear liability law should not apply to these units as the agreement on them predates the 2010 civil liability law, and could be seen as “grandfathered” by the original 1988 agreement. India has indicated that it is ready for price escalation, but has made it clear that will not compromise its civil nuclear liability regime. The price negotiations for units III and IV are to be decided by a techno-commercial panel.
There was much good news for India in its quest for joining multilateral nuclear regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Russia has agreed to act as a facilitator in completing the full integration of India into global nuclear order.
The defence ties, the bedrock of the India-Russia relations, are poised for a boost with the signing of a military-technical contract for delivery of 42 technological kits for SU-30MKI aircraft to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to assemble them in India. The deal is estimated to be around $2.2 billion. Another pact for the delivery of 71 Mi-17V-5 helicopters was also signed. Out of this, 59 of the machines would be given to the Indian Air Force while the remaining 12 would be used by paramilitary forces for anti-Naxal operations.
Amid the flux in the region, Russia backed India’s concerns over terrorism. The two sides “strongly condemned those who provide safe havens and sanctuaries for terrorism and reiterated that states that aid, abet or shelter terrorists are as guilty of acts of terrorism as their actual perpetrators,” said the statement. No prize for guessing who was the target of this precisely-worded statement.
With economic ties not keeping pace with the level of strategic partnership the two countries have enjoyed for decades, the two sides sought to address this economic deficit head on. They signed a signed a pact to promote direct investment which envisages investments up to US$ 2 billion in important bilateral projects or companies, privatisation and other opportunities. They reiterated their resolve to scale up bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015.
‘Deepening Of Ties With India Russia’s Top Priority’
Russian President Vladimir Putin is in New Delhi for barely 17 hours, but his long-awaited visit has ironed out some of the recent rough edges and pitched bilateral ties into a higher trajectory. The fabled time-tested ties between India and Russia, long-time strategic partners, have survived the vagaries of the shifting world order and despite murmurs of scepticism in some Western capitals remain one of the enduring diplomatic relationships, marked by rare warmth and a convergence of strategic interests. In an article in The Hindu, Putin set the tone for his day-long visit (December 24) and the future trajectory of India-Russia relations.
“Political epochs changed but the principles of bilateral ties, such as mutual confidence and equality, remained the same. I would like to stress that deepening of friendship and cooperation with India is among the top priorities of our foreign policy. And now we have every reason to say that they have really unique special and privileged character,” he writes.
In a veiled dig at arrogant unilateralism displayed by some status quo powers, Putin held up the India-Russia relations as an anchor of stability amid the churn in international politics. “In that situation India and Russia show an example of responsible leadership and collective actions in the international arena.” Underlining the global dimension of the India-Russia partnership, Putin says that India and Russia share a common goal in making the world “more just, democratic and secure” by spurring resolution of global and regional problems, including the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Afghanistan. This partnership, Putin, the original architect of the strategic and privileged partnership between India and Russia in the 21st century, is aimed at setting up “a new architecture for a multipolar world order.” “Joint steps in the international arena, participation in the development of rules of global trade and enhancing business, scientific and technological and humanitarian ties form the basis for achieving a new quality of partnership,” he writes.
Setting the target of doubling bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015, Putin also sought to address head-on the economic deficit in the India-Russia relationship as trade and investment have not kept pace with strategic ideas.
“To this end, we should engage all reserves and maintain direct contacts between business communities and promote establishing efficient investment, technological and industry alliances in the most dynamic and promising fields, for instance, in the energy industry, primarily the nuclear one.”
Another important area of potential, Putin indicated, is to incrementally bridge knowledge and information gap between people of the two countries despite cultural affinity spanning centuries. “The centuries-old history and culture of India, majestic architectural monuments and museums of Delhi, Agra and Mumbai have a unique attractive force. In its turn, Indian citizens with interest discover the wealth of Russian music, literature and art.”
Looking ahead, Putin outlines the broad template of what he calls “joint prospects for strategic partnership between India and Russia in the 21 century.” “These are deepening of cooperation in knowledge-intensive fields based on strong historic traditions, advancement of joint products to international markets, further increasing of the share of high value added products in the trade turnover, enhancing the role and effectiveness of Indian-Russian interaction in international affairs, and the widest possible realization of the potential of cultural and humanitarian contacts.”
- 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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