Monday, March 16, 2009

India-Russia Relations

India and Russia are two great powers and old partners located in close proximity to each others. Their approach to various important international problems has either been convergent or quite close to each other. During the last sixty-one years a large number of agreements between the two countries about close cooperation in the field of industry, agriculture, science, technology, defence and culture were inked and successfully implemented. The people of both the countries have benefited from the many-sided cooperation between them to a great extent.

There had been a sea change in Russian polity since 1991 due to various obvious factors. The eastwhile USSR changed into a loose cofederation of countries known as Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the socio-economic structure also underwent a major change. Still, all the sections of Russian public opinion echo the same sentiment of some strong bond between two traditional partners. At present, there are no ideological differences between New Delhi and Moscow. These are the two largest democracies of the world—one in terms of size of the population and the other in terms of size of the territory. In fact, these two countries are the only two major giants in the world that never had any problem and conflict in the history of their bilateral relations. The year 2008 was celebrated as Year Russia in India seeks to further develop and strengthen the relations between New Delhi and Moscow.

Defence Cooperation
Given that the Indian Armed Forces have an overwhelming dependence on Russian defence equipment, information that Russia has grounded its complete fleet of MiG-29 aircraft due to structural defects—and subsequently found a large percentage unsafe to fly—is ominous. The immediate implications for India are worrying. The IAF operates over 60 of the aircraft and is in the midst of procuring 45 more to fly off the much-delayed Admiral Gorshkov and indigenous Cochin-built carriers. And in a larger context, this is the latest in a series of developments over the past few years that suggest it is time for India to diversify its sources of defence equipment.

Russia’s defence manufacturing base is facing shortfalls in capabilities and capacities, leading to contract deadline overruns and increased costs, as seen repeatedly in the case of the Gorshkov. Poor quality and a lack of spare parts only worsen the situation, as do its moribund R&D facilities which compel it to rely on technology dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. India’s ambitious plans to upgrade its military technology and the changing profile of its requirements mean that it can no longer afford to persist with a strategy that depends on Russia as its primary supplier.

And given the recent boost in its defence budget, with various countries scrambling for a slice of the pie, it does not need to.In monetary terms, Israel is already India’s largest defence supplier. The US and European companies are engaged in fierce bidding as well.

India and Russia had also signed the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) for promoting defence cooperation between the two emerging superpowers. With the 62nd anniversary of the famed Kalashnikov AK-47 series around the corner, the Russian manufactures of the world's best known assault rifle announced that the latest AK-100 series will be manufactured in India. The Russian arms company, Izhmash, will issue a licence to an Indian private arms manufacture with whom negotiations are at an advanced stage. Assembling of the AK-103 will begin in an year's time and full-scale manufacturing would start once the technology transfer takes place.

Nuclear Accord
In December 2008, India and Russia signed an accord on civil nuclear cooperation during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s maiden visit to New Delhi. Russia is the third country to sign such agreement with New Delhi after the US and France. This development marks a new milestone in the history of India’s cooperation with Russia in the field of nuclear energy.

The two countries agreed to collaborate in setting up of additional units of the project on the basis of the between the two countries on cooperation in the construction of additional nuclear power plant units at Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu) and new sites in India and to expand and pursue further areas for bilateral cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Bilateral Trade
India and Russia have agreed to more than double their trade to $10 billion by 2010 for which the two countries will consider opening markets through a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). The two sides can achieve the trade figure of $10 billion by 2010 if they keep growing at 30 per cent per year.

In a bid to enhance two-way trade, a bilateral chamber of Commerce has been formed to facilitate increased business related interaction between the two countries. The India-Russia Chamber of Commerce would act as a bridge between business communities of the two countries.

A joint task force is considering the market opening CECA between the two of the four fastest growing BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies. The task force will study the complex economic arrangements between the two countries. Whether expectations will be exceeded after a CECA is finalised is an open question. Joint ventures are being set up in India for cutting and polishing diamonds to be re-exported to third countries.

Space Research
The other understanding between India and Russia on 'Safeguard technologies' enables New Delhi to jointly participate in Moscow's Global Navigation Satellite System–GLONASS. With this India will be in a position to launch GLONASS satellites from its own soil aided by its own vehicles. At present, India depends on the US-controlled Global Positioning System (GPS), for certain applications. It gives India an additional and more reliable and strong platform for satellite data communications, which heralds a new beginning of doing partnership in the field of cooperation in space programme between the two countries.

India and Russia have also initialled a pact for cooperation in the field of solar physics and solar terrestrial relationships within the framework for the Coronas-Photon project. The agreement seeks to provide the integration of India RT-2 payload with the Coronas-Photon space craft and a joint space experiment using the RT-2 equipment.
Oil and Energy Sectors
The Russian Prime Minister has responded positively to the proposals put forward by Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora for cross-investments in the energy sector.

Indo-Russian cooperation in the field of oil and energy production will help meet India's growing demand for import of oil. India has already invested 1.7 billion dollar in the Sakhalin-I offshore oil field in return for 20 per cent equity in oil from Rossweft the national oil company of Russia. The Indian investment is expected to yield about two to four million metric tonnes of oil per year and five to eight million cubic meters of gas per day from the project.

Fight Against Terrorism
India and Russia once again reiterated their commitment to fight against terrorism. Citing terrorism as an energy of human civilisation, the two countries used the whole world to unite against the menace of terrorism by stopping all support to terrorism, financial, military, weapons, ideological, etc. They also urged for a communion approach to tackle terrorism throughout the world.

Both the countries have witnessed terrorist onslaughts on their soil and had even vowed to fight it on the same point. They believe that international terrorism, religious extremism, separatism and secessionism, trans-border organised crime and illicit traffic in arms and drugs constitute a growing and serious threat to international peace, security and stability.

The relations between India and Russia have come a long way. They need each other as a strong prosperous and dynamic power. The objective of these developments is to reinforce the India-Russia relations with a new, strategic orientation in a new Asian era.

So even while more meetings and agreements are welcome what we need to look at is faster movement on their implementations. The only measure with which India and Russia can really test each other's desire to come closer and build relations on a strategic plane is to go by deeds, not words.

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