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President Putin's Visit to India

Prof. Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D, Teaches at York University, Toronto, Canada, also President, Academic & International Collaboration, Liaison College, Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
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  • January 30, 2007

    Vladimir Putin's visit to India on January 25-26, 2007 provided fresh impetus to the strategic partnership between the two countries. The visit reinforced the interests of both states in maintaining their traditionally close and friendly relationship and in strengthening a multipolar world order.

    In recent times, both India and Russia have been pursuing a multi-vector approach in their foreign policies. In a nutshell, both countries do not want to act as members of any bloc, but rather wish to pursue independent and flexible foreign policies keeping their respective national interests and aspirations to become important powers in mind. Ever since India and the US signed the nuclear deal, some quarters have perceived that India is inclining more towards the US and that consequently the Indo-Russian relationship will be strained. But Putin's visit and acceptance of the Indian government's invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebration have diluted much of these incorrect perceptions. Russia has never imposed any sanctions on India, nor has it provided arms to Pakistan. Moreover, Russia recently warned China not to install Russian made RD-93 jet engines in the fighter aircraft that China is jointly developing with Pakistan. It is true that times have changed and the old mindset or sentimentality does not exist in today's world. Besides, the policies of both countries are mainly driven by pragmatic and economic considerations. Although differences arise over certain issues on certain occasions, the overall parallelism in the Indo-Russian relationship definitely symbolizes the trust that still exists between them.

    Now India and Russia have reached a stage where both their economies are resurgent and also at the same time diversifying. Over the last few years, they have achieved significant rates of economic growth. In the last few years, the Indian economy grew by more than 7 per cent per year, and Russia's at about 6.9 per cent. Overall, both economies are developing significantly to provide a good base for expanding business contacts and promoting new projects.

    Nonetheless, in spite of accelerated growth and immense opportunities in each other's economy, statistics show that Indo-Russian trade in 2005-06 was only US$ 2.75 billion. Promises were made by the leaders of both countries earlier as well as this time to boost trade and set the task of reaching $ 10 billion by 2010. But the Indian business community feels that to put these words into practice and strengthen the economic pillar of the relationship, certain practical issues and concerns need to be addressed, like the easing of visa regulations for Indian businessmen, optimising the Indo-Russian shipment route (the North-South Corridor provides the shortest route but it has not been commissioned yet), the expansion of inter-banking co-operation and the issue of utilizing the remaining funds under the Rupee-Rouble debt agreement.

    While addressing these issues and concerns, Putin stated that there can be no effective economic co-operation without political support, and suggested that the high level of political trust between the two countries needs to be translated into economic co-operation. Expressing concerns about red-tapeism, he stressed upon the need for both governments to cut red tape and provide initiatives to boost economic co-operation. He also articulated the point that both countries are market-oriented economies today and therefore need to make greater efforts to conquer each other's markets. For his part, he promised to put in place the conditions for easing the entry of Indian businesses into the Russian market even in non-traditional sectors.

    Areas in which the Russian side showed deep interest in co-operating include telecommunications, shipbuilding, and high technology including outer space. In the field of space, both countries have agreed to jointly develop and exploit the Russian global navigation satellite system Glonass. They hope to restore this system through joint efforts and organize its transition to new Glonass-M and Glonass-K space devices. Russia intends to increase (with the participation of India) the grouping of Glonass system to 18 satellites in 2007. The launch of these satellites will be on board both Russian and Indian space boosters. Apart from Glonass, India and Russia have also agreed to jointly develop a 'Youth' satellite for educational purposes.

    In the energy sector, the Russian side was keen to construct four new nuclear power units in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu as well as new nuclear power plants in other parts of India. Of course, these are contingent upon the NSG revising its guidelines and Russia has stated that it will work at that forum to help India's case. Indo-Russian nuclear co-operation would extend to both the fission and fusion processes as well as non-power applications.

    In the oil and gas sectors, Russia is interested in joint construction of oil and natural gas production and transportation facilities in India and in the surrounding regions. This is in contrast to recent Russian actions that seemingly seek to deny the hitherto easy access of western companies to Russian energy resources. Moscow, it may be recalled, recently cancelled the production share agreement with Royal Dutch Shell in Sakhalin II, which has now been taken over by Gazprom. But such a course of action seems unlikely with Indian companies. India's OVL and Russia's Rosneft are jointly bidding for Sakhalin III. But still some ambiguity remains over this issue. Putin had earlier personally intervened to get India onboard in Sakhalin I, but this time he appeared non-committal on Sakhalin III. Nevertheless, India has geared-up its energy diplomacy and is now moving quickly to penetrate the Russian energy market.

    Against the backdrop of the Goldman Sachs BRIC report, which states that the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China will increase their footprints on the global economic landscape in the 21st century, it is evident that the Indo-Russian economic and trade engagement needs a significant boost. Present economic engagements are mostly in the public sector and even here it is narrowly focused on the defence sector. Military ties between India and Russia are developing steadily and today it includes joint research and development, production, marketing, regular cooperation between the different branches of arms and joint training exercises.

    One significant example of joint defence production is the Brahmos (Brahamaputra-Moscow) anti-ship cruise missile, which can be launched from submarine, ship, aircraft, and land based mobile autonomous launchers. The most interesting aspect of this joint venture is its commercial angle. It has been developed for a global market and some 20 Indian and 10 Russian companies are involved in its production. Its export will, however, be restricted to friendly developing countries.

    The joint development of multi-purpose transport planes is another significant feature of the evolving relationship between the two countries. India and Russia are also expanding the scope of such ventures by agreeing to jointly develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Other important features of Indo-Russian defence co-operation include the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, which will join the Indian Navy as the INS Vikramaditya after a full refit by the end of 2008, and deliveries of MiG-29 which will take place by the end of 2007. Of late, Russia has also advanced a proposal for selling the advanced Mig-35 fighter jet to the Indian Air Force. All these indicate that Russia will maintain an edge over other countries in supplying military hardware to India's defence sector.

    In spite of such notable defence co-operation, there is a need to develop an institutional mechanism that will link Institutions and thereby spur innovation as well as commercialisation of new technologies. Economic and investment projects also need serious information support, which is lacking at the moment. On the whole, it is necessary to publicise the positive experiences and growth of both countries, which will help people in both countries to orient themselves according to present realities and will boost bilateral co-operation in various fields.

    The Putin era will be noted as a transformational period for Russia as well as for the Indo-Russian strategic partnership, given that he was the major factor in re-vitalising both after the Yeltsin years. Putin's visit signifies that at present both countries pay considerable value to this strategic partnership, which has reached a stage where any change in the leadership in either country or closeness with any other country would not make much of a difference to the partnership.