Wednesday, December 21, 2011

India-Russia Summit: Efforts To Resolve Bilateral and International Issues

The India-Russia summit has recently been concluded in Moscow. During his discussions with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an emphatic point about the utility, execution and expansion of the Russia-assisted Koodankulam nuclear power project, underlines the unerring durability of the relations between the two countries. The value of the relationship for both has transcended changes of government in New Delhi and the changed character of the state from communist to capitalist in Moscow. There were contretemps in Russia when the switch-over to capitalism was in progress, but the dispelling of doubts was swift as the new masters in the Kremlin looked around their region and the globe.
India’s continued pairing with Russia on a range of issues — to do with national security on the political as well as the hardware side, science and technology, and now possibly the education sector in terms of the understanding reached at the just-ended summit — plays a role of balance at a time when India’s relations have been fruitfully advanced with the West, especially the United States. Anxieties in the minds of not a few that the United States is invading every sphere of policymaking in this country appear misplaced when the significance of the Russian connection is understood in its widest meaning. The coming into being of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) bloc in international affairs in recent years further cements India-Russia relations, which are not bedeviled by irritants in the bilateral sphere.
Areas of Mutual Interest
The agreements covered all the key areas that underpin the “special and privileged” strategic partnership between the two countries — energy, defence, space, trade and investment, and working together on the international scene. While a formal agreement on Units 3 and 4 at Kudankulam nuclear power project was not signed, pending the resolution of the safety issue controversy in India, the sides moved forward with the project. They agreed on exceptional soft loan terms for the new reactors that will ease the financial burden for India at the time of a global economic slowdown. The talks in Moscow also firmed up prospects for India to expand its presence in Russian oil and gas through joint ventures with Gazprom and Novatek.
Besides the global and regional issues, India and Russia have to further expand their bilateral cooperation in different areas of mutual interest like trade and industry, defense-related matters and civilian nuclear energy.
The two countries do not have a mere buyer-seller relationship. The prime minister has to ensure that more joint ventures, particularly in the area of defense, are undertaken so that India gets cutting-edge technologies from Russia.
Defense Supplies and Technology
In the four decades since the Indo-Soviet treaty the global political, strategic and economic landscapes have changed dramatically, but the core of the bilateral relationship was (and remains) cooperation in defense supplies and technology. In the years following the treaty, Moscow became a very dependable source of defense sales and technology transfer. To be sure, there was uncertainty and disruption of supplies and spares after the implosion of the Soviet Union. But these proved manageable.
Following India’s nuclear tests of 1998 and the ensuing international censure and sanctions, New Delhi and Moscow began moving closer. After Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, Russia and India concluded a fresh strategic partnership agreement.Bilateral Trade TiesDefense and nuclear energy will figure prominently in the prime minister’s discussions in Moscow. Yet it is equally important that both sides resolve at the highest levels to upgrade their economic relations. Bilateral trade has risen from a mere $1.67 billion in 2003-04 to $8.75 billion in 2010. But this fell short of even the modest projection of $10 billion.
An inter-governmental commission has been considering a range of measures to redress this state of affairs, including a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement and revival of the north-south transport corridor through Iran. Unless the two countries are able to add a solid economic layer to their relationship, its strategic dimension cannot be fully leveraged.
Strategic Partnership
Diverse areas of cooperation, from pharmaceuticals and hydrocarbons to information technology and aerospace engineering, which are yet to be explored, allow for optimism. Also, increased defense cooperation between the two countries has provided noteworthy results. At the start of the previous decade, India was only concerned with buying military technology from Russia.
The strategic partnership agreement has also facilitated cooperation in the energy sector. As a net importer of energy, India has increasingly turned to Russia as a major source of oil and natural gas. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh has a 20 per cent stake in the Sakhalin-I oil and gas fields. New Delhi has also been keen on acquiring a comparable stake in the Sakhalin-III projects. India has been pursuing this for nearly six years now, but Russia is yet to respond favorably.
International Challenges
Putin takes over as president the following year and India can be assured of Russia’s continuing support with him around. After all, Putin has taken India-Russia relations to a new level since 2000, following the dry years of Boris Yeltsin. The real challenge is to reconcile the positions taken by India and Russia on the Afghanistan issue. While India believes that the US-led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces should stay in Afghanistan until local forces are adequately equipped to take over, Russia insists that they should leave by 2014.
Moreover, the two countries are also faced with the challenge of evolving complimentary responses to a host of international challenges. The most pressing of these stems from Afghanistan. Even as the US and its allies prepare to drawdown their military presence in Afghanistan, the insurgency remains strong.
Both India and Russia are concerned about continuing instability, but their emphases are somewhat different. India is keen to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorists, whereas Russia is more concerned about the problem of drugs flowing from that country. Moscow’s somewhat narrow approach is understandable in the light of its troubled history of involvement in Afghanistan. But it will be interesting to see how Russia’s policy shapes up in the aftermath of the US drawdown. The endgame in Afghanistan will unfold at a time when Russia’s relations with the United States are dipping.

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