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Monday Morning Webinar on "Prospects of Maritime Cooperation between India and Russia in the Indian Ocean Region, Arctic and Russian Far East”

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  • December 06, 2021
    1000 to 1100 hrs

    Monday Morning- Prospects of Maritime Cooperation between India and Russia in the Indian Ocean Region, Arctic and Russian Far East

    Capt. Anurag Bisen (Indian Navy), Member Non-Traditional Security Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, spoke on the "Prospects of Maritime Cooperation between India and Russia in the Indian Ocean Region, Arctic and Russian Far East" at the Monday Morning Webinar held on 6th December, 2021. The webinar was chaired by Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha, Centre Coordinator, Non-Traditional Security Centre. Deputy Director General, and scholars of the institute participated in the webinar.

    Executive Summary

    India and Russia maintain a longstanding and time tested partnership since the last 50 years. This bilateral partnership has increased manifold and has been elevated to a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”. The Indian Ocean Region, the Arctic and the Russian Far East bring new opportunities for both the countries to further their bilateral relationship. Deeper engagements between India and Russia in these regions through trade, investments, connectivity, energy projects and enhanced cooperation over military, scientific and strategic domains have immense potential.

    Detailed Report

    Dr. Uttam K. Sinha, the Chair introduced the audience to the topic and highlighted the significance of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India. In his opening remarks, he mentioned that while there is mutual respect and reciprocity between India and Russia, there also is India’s growing partnership with the United States. It presents an interesting dynamic, he observed.

    Capt. Bisen provided the backdrop of India-Russia relations mentioning that the two countries have a time-tested and steady relationship which since 2010 was elevated to “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met 19 times since 2014, which is the highest for any foreign leader PM Modi has ever met. Defence, energy, nuclear, space, science and technology remains to be the key drivers of the strategic partnership. 86 per cent of the equipment, weapon system and platforms in Indian military services is of Russian origin. Capt. Bisen mentioned that trade remains a weak link between the two countries where the targets by 2025 have been revised to USD 50 billion for investment and USD 30 billion for trade. He mentioned that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Russia in the last 21 years account for just 0.24% of equity FDI in the country. Similarly, overseas direct investments (ODI) from India account for just 3% over the same period. Capt. Bisen, underlined that there is unrealized potential in terms of trade and investments between the two countries.

    The speaker highlighted the divergences between the two over Russia’s growing alignments with China and India’s deepening ties with the US and observed the need for identifying areas of convergences and prioritizing them. There is, therefore, is a need to identify areas of cooperation that can take the relationship forward.

    Focusing on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Capt. Bisen explained the military bases and the presence of foreign navies such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and the United States in the IOR via permanent bases. Russia, he commented, is the only major power without a permanent base in IOR. Supporting Russia’s recent inclusion as a dialogue partner in Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) would strategically bolster relations.              

    Commenting on Russia’s Indian Ocean strategy, the speaker commented that the 2015 Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation emphasises building relations with India as the most important goal in the IOR. The updated Russia’s National Security Strategy in 2021, also lists India and China as key priorities for Russia’s foreign policy in the region. Russia’s security presence in IOR is gradually increasing and it is emerging as an active player in anti-piracy operations. Russia is also planning on setting up a naval facility in Sudan.

    The presentation highlighted the importance of reciprocal logistics agreements with the friendly nations in the region. India has signed Reciprocal Military Logistic Agreement with all the Quad countries and with France, Singapore and South Korea. It is in the process of signing such an agreement with UK and Vietnam and such an agreement is also expected to be signed with Russia. The speaker pointed to the importance of the White Shipping Information Sharing (WSIS) agreement and mentioned that India and Russia do not have any WSIS agreement. Despite Russia being India’s primary source in the maritime domain, the operational interaction between the two navies is comparatively low which has led to Russia seeking partners elsewhere in the region.

    The second part of the presentation focused on the developments in the Russian Arctic. The speaker mentioned that “What Arctic is to Russia, the Indian Ocean is to India”. The Arctic has become the most important arena of foreign, military and economic policies since president Putin’s coming to power. Russian Arctic accounts for 15 % of Russian GDP, 20% of exports including 80% of its gas and 17 % of its oil. He mentioned that the Russian Arctic has the potential of addressing India’s energy security needs. He also pointed out that due to US-led sanctions, Russia has been significantly restricted in its ability to access the capital and technology to develop its northern territories. China has taken great advantage and has made huge investments in the region.

    Strategic minerals and rare earth materials in the Russian Arctic were the other areas highlighted by the speaker.  The Russian Arctic holds vast amount of strategic materials that can easily mitigate India’s critical deficiencies in rare earth and strategic materials. Commenting on the prospects of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), the speaker asserted that the NSR has the potential of cutting the maritime distance by 4000 km from Shanghai to Rotterdam as compared to Suez and Malacca routes. He further mentioned that India supports President Putin’s vision of developing NSR for international trade and commerce.

    The third and final part of the presentation focused on Russian Far East (RFE). He mentioned that the RFE is also rich in natural resources that accounts for producing 98% Russian diamonds, 90% Borax materials, 50% gold, 14% of Tungsten, and 40% of fish and seafood. There are plans to attract 2 million people to the region in the next 15 years. India’s USD1 billion line of credit for developing the Russian Far East, is the first time that India has ever given to a particular region of the country. Similarly, PM Modi has announced India’s Act Far East Policy, while speaking at Eurasian Economic Forum in Vladivostok in 2019.


    Capt. Anurag Bisen’s policy recommendations were as follows:

    1. India needs to support Russia in the Arctic on NSR and seek greater engagement with Russia in the sustainable extraction of hydrocarbons and other mineral resources available in the region.
    2. India and Russia could set up a special Joint Working Group specifically for cooperation in the Arctic and Russian Far East.
    3. India could seek collaboration with Russia for the accelerated acquisition of Polar Research Vessel.
    4. Scientific cooperation between Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute of Russia and National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Goa could be further enhanced through scientific and research MoU’s.
    5. India and Russia could consider signing a manpower pact for the supply of skilled workforce to the Arctic and RFE region.
    6. India and Russia could collaborate to set up training of seafarers for polar voyages and India could supply Indian seafarers for Arctic shipping.
    7. The option of extending the North South Transport Corridor to the Arctic through Russia’s Unified Deep-water System to provide a multimodal transport corridor could be further explored.
    8. India needs to facilitate Russia’s access to the IOR to further deepen its naval engagements.
    9. Both the navies could consider institutionalized interactions between the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet at Visakhapatnam and the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok. 
    10. MoU for Naval to Naval Cooperation between the Indian and Russian Navy needs to be concluded at the earliest.

    Dr. Sinha invited the panelists for their comments and questions.

    Cmde. Abhay Singh mentioned that the critical aspect of India-Russia bilateral relationship is that it is fundamentally driven and governed by the governments themselves. There is a very limited ground level compatible ecosystem to further develop the mutual partnership. He also mentioned that unlike China, both the countries have different economic systems where maximum investments come from the public sector rather than private enterprises.

    Deputy Director General, Maj. Gen. (Dr) Bipin Bakshi AVSM, VSM (Retd.), asked the speaker to comment on the Russian perspective on various issues discussed in his presentation. He specifically asked the speaker regarding the Russian perspective on India’s leaning towards the West by highlighting India’s shift from AN 12 and IL 76 to C 130 and C17 transport aircrafts. DDG also mentioned that with India’s arms procurement diversification, the entire airborne system will significantly change from Russian to Western systems. He also highlighted the AUKUS deal and commented on growing Russia-Pakistan and Russia-China relations and asked the speaker to comment on those.

    Col. (Dr) Divakaran Padma Kumar Pillay (Retd.) in his remarks highlighted Russia’s support to India in 1971 Bangladesh war when the whole Western world was against India. He highlighted that Russians not only trailed USS Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal but they also deployed 44 Motorised divisions against China at the Sino-China border to stop any Chinese involvement in the war.

    Dr. Nihar K Nayak commented on the Himalayas (also known as the third pole) by comparing it with the Arctic. Dr. Nayak made an important point by saying that both the Arctic and the Himalayas as the major source of livelihood, economy and human security are dramatically impacted by climate change. He called for undertaking a joint study to find the scientific interlinkages between the two regions.

    Mr. Bipandeep Sharma asked the speaker regarding the Chinese developments of manned and unmanned underwater capabilities in the Arctic and then asked the speaker to comment on whether India is developing such capabilities in the Arctic.

    Capt. Anurag Bisen gave extensive insightful remarks to all the comments and questions asked by the panelists and the participants.

    The Monday morning meeting ended with a valid observation from Dr. Sinha, the chair, that India must diversify its strategic relationship, but should not forget Russia in the whole matrix of diversifying its interests.  


    Report prepared by Bipandeep Sharma, Research Analyst, Non-Traditional Security Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.