2013: A significant year for the India-Russia partnership

Source: Konstantin Zavrazhin / Rossiyskaya gazeta

Source: Konstantin Zavrazhin / Rossiyskaya gazeta

Substance wise, this year witnessed some landmarks in the development of bilateral relations between the strategic partners, including the transfer of the INS Vikramaditya and the commissioning of Kudankulam’s first unit.

In 2013 there are many good stories that augur well for Indo-Russian relations. The long-awaited aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya, finally left the Sevmash shipyard of Russia for India in November. The commissioning of the $2.3 billion aircraft carrier silenced critics of the deal. Moreover, it confirmed that despite hitches the bilateral deals are deliverable, and the leaders of both the countries are committed to fulfil the agreements. Another success story is substantial progress on joint design, production and marketing of fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). Though India has some reservation about its participation in the project, the visit of Indian Defence Minister, A K Antony to Russia in November was helpful in sorting out the differences. The FGFA project worth $30 billion will give a major boost to the capability of the Indian Air Force, which will be reportedly ordering 200 of the twin-engine aircraft. The defence relations, one of the most active areas of bilateral cooperation, witnessed a surge of deals and deliveries in 2013.

The commissioning of the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu is certainly another landmark in the relationship in 2013. The project went through rough waters, particularly in the last months. More so, the politicization of the project steamed much of the logic out it. Finally, it is the bilateral commitment to cooperate in nuclear energy that emerged victorious. In this area, Russia has been a steady friend and supporter of India both at times of peace and trouble. The success story of KNPPI has provided the leaders the needed occasion to explore the possibility of establishing more nuclear energy plants in Kudankulam and other parts of India, although the country new civil nuclear liability laws have come in the way of further agreements.

This year also witnessed some great story about resilience in bilateral relations. The INS Sindhurakshak submarine sunk off the Mumbai coast in August. Stories circulated about a possible nadir in bilateral defence relations. But no such thing happened. Both the countries exercised prudence and avoided blame game.

Joint agreements and resolutions are backed by joint actions. The Indra-2013 joint exercise in the Rajasthan deserts in August was meant for counter-terrorism. On issues like terrorism and extremism both the countries share similar problems, and joint exercises and working groups are effective means to counter the menaces.

At international front, this year witnessed common resolves at various bilateral, trilateral and multilateral forums to emphasize and foster common goals. Those goals include: multipolarism, reform of international bodies like the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, exploring alternate financial structures such as BRICS bank, fight common menaces such as drug trafficking, terrorism and extremism. The summits of BRICS in South Africa in March, the SCO summit in September, and G20 summit in St Petersburg in September, RIC Foreign Ministers meeting in New Delhi in November revolved around these themes in varying degrees.  In concrete terms, the BRICS summit in Durban in March outlined the establishment of a common bank, the SCO summit in Bishkek in September emphasized on fighting common menaces of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking with particular focus on Afghanistan, and G20 summit under the Russian chairmanship emphasized on a more equitable global financial order. Russia is a member of all these bodies, while India is also member of these bodies except the SCO in which it is an observer, but is likely to become a full-member soon.

On conflict hot-spots like Syria and Afghanistan, both the countries emphasized during their annual summit their common positions. The joint statement in aftermath of the annual summit in October emphasized peaceful resolution of the conflicts through dialogue and collaboration.

2013 was full of events for India and Russia. It not only witnessed some of the landmark achievement in relations, it also laid down a future full of promise and possibilities. The annual bilateral trade at about $11 billion may not be a huge figure; nonetheless it was a substantial increase from the previous years. The idea of diversification of economic relations beyond defence (which critics refer to as rupee-reactor syndrome) gained further ground this year. The diversification of trade in the areas such as infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, life sciences and bio-technology was emphasized in various forums.

Efforts towards a liberal visa regime, establishment of bank to bank relations (such as MoU between State Bank of India and Russian Direct Investments Fund) are indicative that the relations are moving in right direction.

Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin, an optimist and strong advocate of India-Russia partnership, observed that India-Russia relations are “unique in world diplomacy”. Former Ambassador Vyacheslav Trubnikov echoed this sentiment and observed India is the only country with which Russia has privileged strategic partnership. However, Trubnikov’s emphasis that Russia should invest in the cultural domain as there is a “tremendous shortage of information” is timely. The same piece of advice is applicable to India as well. The cultural events this year have generated hopes. These need to be fostered. 2013 remained positive, giving rise to hopes and aspirations for the year 2014.

The writer is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include conflict, terrorism, peace and development, South Asia, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.

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