65th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations will be celebrated throughout the year - Ambassador Malhotra

Interview to Interfax by H.R. Ajai Malhotra, Ambassador of India to the Russian Federation

Interfax: In March India is going to host a BRICS Summit. What will be on the agenda?

Ajai Malhotra:  BRICS has come a long way since the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2006, which I was privileged to attend. We are not merely rapidly emerging economies, but a unique grouping that has grown in influence and evolved mechanisms for consultation and cooperation in a variety of sectors. BRICS has the capacity and political will to engage with the international community and contribute to global well-being, stability and growth. Its activities are now closely watched by the rest of the international community.

Economic issues have been the focus of the BRICS agenda since the first Summit in Yekaterinburg in 2009. It is now generally accepted that the BRICS countries can play a significant role in promoting economic and financial stability at the global level. Its agenda has widened over the years to encompass issues of global governance and such challenges before the world community as food security, energy security, public health and urbanization concerns, international financial crises, climate change, and sustainable development. Three Summits, meetings of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Agriculture and Health, and other sectoral interaction have deepened cooperation amongst us.

India assumes the BRICS Chairmanship at the 4th BRICS Summit in New Delhi on March 29 this year. The New Delhi BRICS Summit will seek to impart further momentum as it takes the BRICS agenda forward. It will build upon issues identified at previous Summits, while focusing largely on traditional BRICS issues. These are usually clustered around themes of better governance of the global economy and sustainable development or green economy issues. The theme of the Summit will be “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity”.

Interfax: What does the Indian side intend to discuss on the bilateral India-Russia summit during President Medvedev's visit? Are there any agreements due to be signed?

A.M.:  Our bilateral ties are sturdy, multifaceted and time-tested, characterized by warmth and mutual respect. Pillars of our multifaceted cooperation include space, defence, trade and economic cooperation, science & technology, nuclear energy, oil & natural gas, pharmaceuticals and culture. We have had intense bilateral interaction during the last six months of 2011, with visits from India to Russia by our Ministers of External Affairs, Home Affairs, Commerce, Defence, Power, Steel, Shipping, Tourism, and our National Security Advisor. The pinnacle of these exchanges was the very successful official visit to the Russian Federation in mid-December 2011 by our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, which reaffirmed the unprecedented goodwill and trust between us.

There will be a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Medvedev on the sidelines of the annual BRICS Summit in New Delhi on March 29, 2012. The two leaders would review developments since they met in Moscow three months ago and exchange views on bilateral, regional and international issues of common concern. Bilateral agreements are usually not signed during a visit taking place in the context of a multilateral Summit.

We also look forward to welcoming President-elect Vladimir Putin to India in the last quarter of 2012 for the annual India-Russia Summit. Moreover, there is an important anniversary coming up as April 13 this year marks sixty five years of India-Russia diplomatic ties. We have drawn up a year-long calendar of cultural and academic activities to commemorate this anniversary, including a Festival of Indian Films and Culture to be held in Russia this April. India will also host a “Festival of Russia in India” as well as “Days of Moscow in Delhi” during 2012.

So, 2012 promises to be yet another year of concentrated bilateral engagement as our special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia steadily forges ahead.

Interfax: What are the prospects of further visa facilitation process between India and Russia?

A.M.:  In June 2011 we liberalized our visa regime for Russian tourists visiting India and are now routinely granting six month multiple entry visas, compared to one month single entry visas earlier. This has facilitated tourist travel and tourist visas issued to Russians by this Embassy grew by 24% in 2011 compared to 2010. It is good that Russia has reciprocated with a more liberal visa regime since December 2011.

We are undertaking fresh tourism promotion initiatives and expect this trend to continue in 2012. Popular Indian destinations include Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, Goa, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Kulu-Manali, Ladakh, and Kerala. India is a complete tourist destination and invites Russian friends to enjoy its hospitality!

Consideration about visa-on-arrival for Russians travelling to India on ordinary passports is at a very, very preliminary stage. Let us wait and see what emerges.

Interfax: The world markets are still very volatile. Given that no basic reserve currency is a safe harbour now, do BRICS countries discuss a possibility of creating a common currency? What's India's standpoint?

A.M.:  Recent events in Europe show that a common currency is not such an easy instrument to put in place and manage over a long period of time. Tremendous coordination in economic policy at the national level as well as institutional efforts in terms of monitoring, reporting and management are required. In any case it is very premature to speak of a common currency in the BRICS context.
On the other hand, we are pursuing several initiatives within BRICS to construct an enabling environment that would promote greater intra-BRICS economic cooperation through specific and practical steps. At the Sanya Summit last April we signed a framework agreement on financial cooperation, envisaging grant of credits in local currencies. Similarly, we are discussing the possibility of currency swap arrangements that could promote greater use of local currency in settling intra-BRICS trade transactions.

Interfax: India and Russia failed in December 2011 to sign an agreement concerning construction of two more nuclear power units in Kudankulam. Is there a hope that such an agreement will be signed during President Medvedev's visit to New Delhi?

A.M.:  India-Russia cooperation in nuclear energy envisages a long term partnership in this important area. The next phase in the Kudankulam Nuclear Power project that you are referring to flows from the 2008 Inter-Governmental Agreement and also constitutes a part of our cooperation ‘Road Map’. Technical and commercial negotiations for such huge projects are inevitably time consuming. In any case, as mentioned earlier, bilateral agreements are not usually signed during a visit for a multilateral Summit.

Interfax: Russia has lately lost several major tenders for supplying weapons to India. Does it mean that India-Russia military cooperation degrades? What are the prospects in this field? Can we expect some major contracts in the near future?

A.M.:  Russian arms manufacturers facing stiff competition on the Indian market from those of other countries is nothing new. Such competition has been around for many decades and, despite it, our defence ties with Russia have grown apace. Russian manufacturers have not succeeded in a few of our recent defense acquisition programs, but that too is not unusual. There are, equally, numerous instances when Russian companies have proved competitive and emerged as valued partners in meeting our defence needs.

Furthermore, India-Russia defence ties have radically transformed in recent years, from a purely buyer-seller relationship to a dynamic one that covers joint research, development, and production of advanced defence systems. Several flagship projects are evidence of this change, which has opened up new vistas, e.g., the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft project, the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft project, besides those for manufacturing the Brahmos missile, SU-30MKI fighter and T-90 tank in India.

This year we mark half a century of India-Russia defence cooperation. Russia remains India's largest partner in military-technical cooperation and vice versa, and there are very good prospects for long-term cooperation.

Interfax: Is India interested in Russia's participation in the TAPI pipeline project?

A.M.:  We would welcome Russia's participation in the TAPI pipeline project.

Interfax: Gazprom says it hopes to sign a LNG supplies agreement with India soon. When such agreement can be completed?

A.M.:  Gazprom Global LNG signed a memorandum last June to supply up to 10 billion cubic metres of LNG to GAIL, Gujarat State Petroleum Company and Petronet over 25 years. Indian companies are exploring cooperation in LNG with Gazprom and Novatek. I am sure that the sides would share information on further newsworthy developments in this regard at the opportune moment.

Originally published in indianembassy.ru

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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