India-Russia ties have shown progress, but something's amiss

Moscow's reluctance to point a finger at Pakistan on terrorism noticeable.

 |  5-minute read |   25-10-2016
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The 17th India-Russia summit in Goa on October 15 was opportune for reviewing bilateral ties as well as regional and global developments by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin. Some Russian policies at the regional level are causing India concern and risk eroding mutual trust that has traditionally characterised India-Russia ties.


While annual summits ensure oversight of the relationship at the highest level, the downside is the political burden they carry to demonstrate progress so that any impression of stagnation or even failure is avoided.

In Russia’s case, pressure for announcing defence contracts gets build up, as defence remains the core of the bilateral relationship. It is not feasible to announce annually billions of dollars worth of new contracts, especially if it remains a buyer-seller relationship.

Russia’s willingness to give us access to platforms and technologies that other countries will not no doubt impart a special value to the relationship, but this should not be a reason not to work for its reconfiguration in a way that the Modi government’s "Make in India" in defence manufacturing campaign becomes a reality in time.

The summit saw further progress on already known projects, but no new projects were green-lighted.

Inter-Governmental Agreements for the acquisition of five batteries of the powerful S-400 air defence system and four additional frigates were signed. The shareholder agreement for establishing a Joint Venture to manufacture Ka-226T helicopters in India with HAL’s participation - again a project already assigned to Russia - was inked.

The summit’s joint statement places this in the context of joint design, development and production of high technology military equipment.

Whether this objective is achieved and production of these helicopters does not follow the familiar pattern of licensed manufacture without adequate transfer of technology remains a question.

This concern may explain why no progress on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft was announced during the summit.

putinsharifbd_102516102606.jpg Moscow's reluctance to point a finger at Pakistan on terrorism , especially after PM Modi begun targeting it with unusual tenacity, is noticeable. (Photo: Reuters)

Sources indicate that decisions to substantially extend the range of the Brahmos missile and lease a second nuclear powered submarine from Russia were taken at the summit. If so, one should welcome them.

In the area of civilian nuclear cooperation site work for Kudankulam (KK) Units 3 and 4 was formally launched by the two leaders.

For KK 5 and 6, the General Framework Agreement and the Credit Protocol are expected to be concluded by end 2016. The second site for Russian reactors in Andhra Pradesh has still not been announced as the Indian side wants to make sure that all seismic studies are completed to full satisfaction before the allocation of the site is officially announced.

Although the joint statement speaks positively about local manufacturing of equipment and components for the upcoming Russian supplied reactors, the reality is that this will take time.

India-Russia cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector has begun to make substantial progress. The joint statement notes that investment in Tass-Yuryakh and Vankor oil fields is the largest equity oil acquisition hitherto by Indian companies.

As against this, the acquisition by Rosneft and associated groups of Essar Oil and Vadinor port is the biggest FDI by Russia, and is in line with the foothold Russia has always sought in this sector in return for opening up its oil and gas sector to India.


Russia’s seeming reluctance to point a direct finger at Pakistan publicly on the terrorism issue, especially after Prime Minister Modi has begun targeting it on this issue with unusual force and tenacity, is noticeable.

Modi has expressed satisfaction with Russian assurances given privately, but some clear public statement by Putin on cross-border terrorism would have been advisable.

Russia’s stakes in Pakistan are limited no matter the arguments given to justify arms transfers and military exercises with it.

If the Islamic State (ISIS) is a threat through Afghanistan, pressuring Pakistan that provides safe havens to extremist groups is required, not courting it. Russia has experience of Pakistan's deceit in Afghanistan. The joint statement repeats past formulations on terrorism that have begun to sound platitudinous.

Surprisingly, it does not mention LeT and JeM or mentions support for the designation of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist.


Russia would not have done more than restate the UNSC decisions on LeT and JeM to which it is a party, and on Azhar re-affirm the position it presumably took in the relevant UNSC committee.

Its willingness to allow our side to express "its appreciation for Russia’s unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attack on army base in Uri" in the joint statement is, however, a saving grace.

For the rest, Russia has again strongly supported India’s NSG membership, that of APEC and our candidature for UN Security Council permanent membership.

On the vexatious product support issues relating to Russian defence equipment, an Indo-Russian Military industrial Conference will now address them.

To bolster economic ties Russia will be the partner country in the International Engineering Sourcing Show 2017 in India. Some steps to strengthen bilateral diamond trade have been taken.

The setting up of a bilateral investment fund by the National Infrastructure Investment Fund of India and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is a good step.

All in all, the India-Russia summit has showed progress in bilateral relations, but on geopolitical issues gaps that are not in consonance with the special and privileged strategic partnership between the two countries are appearing and need to be closed.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Why India-Russia are an ideal match for each other



Kanwal Sibal Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary

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