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  India   India and Russia: Keeping a special partnership on track

India and Russia: Keeping a special partnership on track

Published : Aug 25, 2016, 1:01 am IST
Updated : Aug 25, 2016, 1:01 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet at least twice over the coming two months.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet at least twice over the coming two months. The first meeting will be on the margins of G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China on September 4-5. Second interaction will be during Mr Putin’s visit to India to attend the Brics and annual bilateral summit in Goa on October 15-16.

Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin visited India to prepare for Mr Putin’s forthcoming visit. This was Mr Rogozin’s fourth visit to India since Mr Modi’s victory in May 2014. This is testimony to the significance that both countries attach to bilateral partnership.

Strong relations with Russia are a key pillar of India’s foreign policy. In his meeting with Mr Rogozin on August 20, 2016, PM Modi described Russia as “a time-tested and reliable friend...”

Recent years have witnessed rapid growth in all aspects of bilateral partnership encompassing defence, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, space cooperation, science and technology, and cultural collaboration and people-to-people contacts.

Russia of today is not the Russia of 2014 when it was reeling under onslaught of Western sanctions. Russia is rapidly emerging as a confident and resurgent power. With Indian economy growing at a robust 7.6 per cent per annum, time is propitious for the two countries to take their relationship to a new level.

Russia continues to be India’s main trading partner in military and technical sphere with more than 70 per cent of equipment in the Indian armed forces being of Russian origin. Bilateral engagement has evolved from supply of end products to technology transfer, joint research and development.

The most rewarding example of joint cooperation is successful designing and manufacture of sophisticated BrahMos supersonic cruise missile for Indian armed forces and export to third countries. Discussions for exports to the UAE, Vietnam, South Africa and Chile are at an advanced stage.

List of joint projects between India and Russia is formidable. A significant contract for supply and joint production of 200 Russian light helicopters Ka-226T was signed recently.

Most bilateral projects are in consonance with “Make in India” programme launched by Mr Modi.

Several projects like the fifth generation fighter aircraft and purchase of S-400 air missile defence system are expected to fructify soon.

Nuclear energy has emerged as one of the most significant and fastest growing areas of bilateral cooperation. Two 1,000MW power plants are already functional at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. Four more are slated to come up in the same vicinity. During Mr Modi’s visit to Moscow last December, it was decided to establish six more 1,000MW nuclear power plants probably in Andhra Pradesh.

Russian atomic power corporation Rosatom is interested in participating in “Make in India” programme and assembly of fuel rods and control system components.

Some components can be assembled in India for using domestically, for export to Russia and to third markets.

Hydrocarbons hold enormous potential for bilateral cooperation. Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas.

As a result of Western sanctions Russia has adopted a new “Asia Pivot” strategy, the most marked aspect of which is its turn towards India and China.

Energy security for Russia means having long-term arrangements for supplying its oil and gas. India’s energy demand is growing at a rapid pace. Today India is dependent on imports of oil to the extent of 80 per cent of its requirement and in gas to the tune of 37 per cent. Russia and India hence make an ideal match as producer and consumer.

India is significantly invested in Russia’s oil and gas sector. Its first investment was a 20 per cent stake in Sakhalin-I worth $1.7 billion in 2001. This investment has yielded impressive gains. ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) invested $2.1 billion to buy 100 per cent stake in Imperial Energy in 2009. This turned out to be highly unprofitable both because of the high price paid and inadequate production from the oil field. In lieu, OVL has picked up significant stakes in Bashneft, Titov and Trebs fields off the Arctic continental shelf.

In July 2015, Essar and Rosneft signed a preliminary agreement for Rosneft to acquire 49 per cent stake in Essar’s Vadinar Oil refinery and supply crude to Essar for over 10 years. In September 2015, OVL signed an agreement with Rosneft to acquire 15 per cent stake in Vankorneft project, the second largest oil field in Russia. Recently in June, an Indian consortium signed a sale-purchase agreement with Rosneft for acquisition of 23.9 per cent in Vankor oil block.

Growth in bilateral trade and investment has not been commensurate with other areas of bilateral engagement. Two-way trade continues to languish at an abysmally low level of $10 billion. The two countries have fixed a target of $30 billion by 2025. Several silver linings have appeared recently on the horizon. Some of these include: India’s prospective membership of Eurasian Economic Union, development of International North-South Transport Corridor, trial runs on which took place on August 8, 2016, construction and upgradation of Chabahar seaport to promote and improve connectivity with Central Asia, Russia and Afghanistan.

India’s membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will provide several opportunities to promote security, stability and economic growth in Central Asia and the region. Regional countries need to collaborate actively to ensure that Afghanistan does not descend into conflict and instability. Russia and India can play a crucial role in this as also in dealing with the scourge of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Asia. Unrest and continuing violence in Syria as well as the uncontrolled spread of Islamic State, terrorism and radicalisation of youth are other challenges that the two countries need to quell and overcome together.

Both India and Russia are factors of peace, stability, security and economic development, domestically, bilaterally and regionally. Rapidly expanding special and privileged strategic partnership between the two countries bodes well for future of India and Russia as well as the region.

The author is a former ambassador