Substance without Hype

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with President of India Pratibha Patil.Source: the Presidential Press and Information Office

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with President of India Pratibha Patil.Source: the Presidential Press and Information Office

Since July 2010, India witnessed the visit of all the permanent members of United Nations Security Council including the UK, the US, France, China and Russia, signifying India’s rise in the world map as all the visitors vied to secure deals and boost trade relations with India, but it is Russia which could pace ahead of other countries in securing the highest number of deals in commensurate with the strategic content of the relationship between the countries. The usual summary of India-Russia relations that both have good political relations but sluggish economic relations was well reflected by Medvedev, who told the press in New Delhi that “I believe that trade between us does not nearly reflect our privileged partnership.” Perhaps this visit will help in a positive way discard this notion that the relations lack economic content. The biggest ever defence deal of $35billion over a period of twenty years were signed between the two countries. Equally importantly, both the countries pledged to boost bilateral trade to the tune of $20billion by 2015.

Hence, the pessimists and naysayers predicting doom to the relations between India and Russia might receive a jolt at the developments during the visit of President Medvedev. During the visit both the countries signed 15 agreements spanning diversified areas of oil and gas, defence, information technology, chemical and fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, and many other areas. It is true that the relations may get occasional setbacks and prevarications, but the fact becomes clear that in the emerging globalised world, in which competition has become a norm, India and Russia can sail well the bilateral relations. Many of the hurdles were addressed during the visit. Important among them were some contentious issues related to visa, and nuclear liability. Medvedev appeared pragmatic when he said to an Indian daily on the eve of this visit that, “Similar to Russia, India has been pursuing a multi-track foreign policy and has been maintaining ties with plenty of countries, including in the military and technical sphere. It is only natural that the Western producers of arms and military equipment are interested in cooperating with India as well. We treat this with serenity and pragmatism. We are ready to compete, the main point being that the fight for contracts is fair and according to the rules.”

India-Russia relations have witnessed many ups and downs, but the bottom line in the relations has never been ruptured. The relations since the Soviet era has never touched a nadir as much as that the relations came to a close. It is true that the Soviet collapse affected the relations during internal and external dynamics of Russia as well as due to very change in international politics, which affected the relations in a maximalist sense in the early years of the 1990s, particularly 1991-1993, but later with the visit of then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, the relations gradually picked up. Political contents aside, the emerging global issues in a world without bloc politics, multipolar construction of relations among nations, menace of terrorism and fundamentalism, and mutual complementarities in diverse areas brought the countries together. Indian leader A. B. Vajpayee, and Russian leader Vladimir Putin could envisage the challenges as well as opportunities of the new century. The result was the signing of the strategic partnership in the year 2000. The relations had a smooth sail, but India-Russia watcher could point out the lack of economic content to the overall strategic partnership. The relations were characterised by surfeit of political bonhomie but malnutrition in economic content. As a result the economic relations lagged behind. For instance in 2009, the bilateral trade stood at $7.5 billion, far behind the trade volume of both the countries with many other nations.

In a sense, the slow and sluggish economic partnership between India and Russia has witnessed a kind of transformation with the visit of President Medvedev this December. Unlike India’s relations with many other countries, there is probably least deficit in trust between the two countries. There is a thinking shared by many analysts that perhaps Russia is the only country which can share sensitive material and technology with India. This qualification will probably be never applicable to any other country with which India has trade relations. It is understandable that there are hitches in the relations, but then it is the role of suave and crafty diplomacy to sort out differences. Unlike the cold war in which the relations were seen through the prism of bipolar blocs, the post-cold war scenario abhors any such bloc-ism, as the relations have become multipolar and multidimensional. Russia’s interest, in this contest, to promote TAPI pipeline project to meet energy requirements of the South Asian region, and also to regional cooperation needs to be welcome by the all the players including India.

The recent visit of President Medvedev witnessed many crucial developments. Both the countries signed preliminary design contract (PDC) for joint development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). At present the PDC may be pegged at $295 million but over next two decades India will invest about $35 billion in the project to induct between 250 and 300 of advanced stealth fighters from 2020 onwards. The aircraft, called Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF), will have features like stealth, super-cruise, ultra-manouvreability and highly integrated avionics suite and enhanced situational awareness. Similarly in the field of nuclear cooperation, Russia is likely to build a total of 18 nuclear reactors in India. As stated by Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, India has reaffirmed its readiness to provide Russia a third plot of land for the construction of nuclear reactors. Both the countries signed intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in the oil and gas and nuclear energy spheres as well as jointly developing information technologies. Other areas in which agreements were signed included chemicals and fertilisers, banking, joint project in the Indian state of Gujarat, etc.

India-Russia relations have undoubtedly reached a new height with the visit of President Medvedev of Russia. With the passing years the relations will likely be further strengthened in a framework which both the countries will develop in the spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation. The Medvedev visit marks not only tenth anniversary of strategic partnership, but also a new epoch in bilateral relations between the two countries.

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