Russia should be grateful for Mr Modi's visit

India's growing strength will benefit Moscow when it experiences the unbearable pressure of Chinese expansion in Central Asia.

 |  5-minute read |   24-12-2015
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his first state visit to Moscow on Wednesday. His travel to Russia assumes great significance as this is one of the few major partnerships that has failed to take-off since the NDA government came to office. This will be a significant opportunity for the two countries to dramatically augment bilateral relations, as PM Modi said last week, "to a new level".

Considerable preparation has been undertaken over the last few months with travels by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, defence minister Manohar Parrikar and Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to craft an ambitious agenda for a substantial impetus to bilateral partnership. India and Russia find themselves in an ideal situation today to trigger a quantum leap.

Engagement

Modi has provided a huge impetus to India's engagement with several partners, including the US, Japan, Europe, Africa and several neighbouring countries. The one conspicuous exception is Russia. Our relations continue to drift listlessly, although both sides realise that this is a time-tested partnership that needs to be nurtured with care. Although the relationship is designated as "a special and privileged strategic partnership", it has failed to live up to this high-sounding description.

Bilateral trade and economic relations are embarrassingly low and nowhere near India's trade turnover with other major partners like the US, the EU, etc, all of which hover around $100bn while India-Russia trade wallows at the ten-billion-dollar level.

The prime minister has established a personal rapport with most major international leaders like Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe, Angela Merkel, among others. Similar chemistry has so far not been seen with Vladimir Putin. Modi's visit would be an ideal opportunity to forge a strategic understanding.

Also read: Why Russians won't give nuclear attack submarine to Modi

Russia finds itself squeezed into a corner as a result of developments in Ukraine and Crimea. This has compelled it to seek refuge in closer economic and political partnerships with China. It's ironic that Russia is the junior partner in this relationship. The steep decline in international energy prices, continuing Western sanctions and increasing outlays on its involvement in Syria and Ukraine have adversely impacted the health of the Russian economy.

India, on the other hand, is the fastest growing economy and could emerge as the bright spot for world economics.

Closer economic, commercial and strategic partnership between India and Russia will not only be a win-win situation for both countries, but also vastly contribute to international peace, security and stability. So far hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, defence equipment, fertilisers and rough diamonds have been the main components of bilateral exchanges.

Some big-ticket items that could be announced during the visit are sale of 200 Kamov-226T helicopters by Russia and progressive indigenisation in India. This will be a major component of the Russian support to Modi's Make in India initiative.

Estrangement

Talks are afoot to lease another Russian nuclear-powered submarine in addition to INS Chakra, leased in 2012, for a period of ten years for $900mn. Considerable discussions took place during Parrikar's November visit on purchase and local manufacture of five Russian advanced S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems for a whopping seven billion dollars. This deal when finalised will go a long way in mollifying Russia which will again occupy the position of premier defence equipment supplier to India.

Inroads by the US in this sector with orders of ten billion dollars over the last few years have piqued Russia. This explains its overtures to Pakistan during the visit of defence minister Sergei Shogu, as also offer of sale of Mi-35 "Hind E" attack helicopters and Sukhoi-35 fighter jets. Russia has also reportedly been in discussions with China to supply the same defence equipment it is providing India.

Russia, however, needs to realise that the more sophisticated defence equipment it supplies to India's neighbours, the less attractive its technology will become for India.

Also read: 3 key issues PM would want Putin to warm up to

Notwithstanding India's growing relations with the US, there is no other large country with which Delhi shares commonality of strategic and security interest. The same is equally, if not more, true for Moscow. Russia appears to be making a virtue out of necessity by having closer ties with China and also reaching out to Pakistan for short-term, tactical reasons.

The India-Russia relationship has been painstakingly nurtured and has withstood the test of time. Moscow needs to understand that Delhi's growing ties with Washington are not at the expense of Kremlin. They are necessary for India's domestic economic development. Moreover, India's expanding ties with the US and Japan are imperative to provide it with requisite strategic space in the face of rising assertiveness and growing political, military and economic might of China.

Also, India's growing strength will benefit Russia when it experiences the unbearable pressure of Chinese expansion in Central Asia.

Exploration

Collaboration in nuclear energy is set to receive a big boost during the visit. Last year, Putin had offered to set up 12 nuclear reactors in India over the next 20 years. It is likely that decision on ten reactors, six in Andhra Pradesh and four in Tamil Nadu, is announced during the visit.

On the hydrocarbon front, participation by India in exploration for oil, gas and other minerals in Russia's Arctic shelf will help establish Delhi as a long-term player in Moscow's energy sector.

Also see: 4 hilarious memes tell you what Modi thought before he left for Russia

During his visit last week, Deputy PM Rogozin mentioned about opportunities for Indian companies in the Russian market on account of exit of several European and Turkish manufacturers in food products, textiles, clothing and other consumer durables. Indian business needs to be nimble-footed to take full advantage of emerging possibilities. Cooperation in outer space, including establishment of constellations of satellites, earth remote sensing stations and ground-based infrastructure, is another area for further expanding relations.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Ashok Sajjanhar Ashok Sajjanhar @asajjanhar

The writer is secretary, National Foundation for Communal Harmony.

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