Our cooperation with Russia is expanding in volume and diversity - Indian Ambassador

Indian Ambassador to Russia P.S. Raghavan. Source: Sergey Kuksin / RG

Indian Ambassador to Russia P.S. Raghavan. Source: Sergey Kuksin / RG

After the coming to power of India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visit to India of the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Moscow and New Delhi are trying to demonstrate that the strategic partnership is scaling new heights and both countries intend to develop cooperation not just in the traditional successful areas such as military-technical cooperation, said Indian Ambassador to Russia P.S. Raghavan in an interview to RIA Novosti.

In the last two months there have been three important India-Russia meetings one after another: we are talking about the visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to India, talks between our foreign ministers in Beijing on the sidelines of the RIC trilateral meeting, and, of course, the India-Russia Summit in New Delhi at the end of last year. The signed documents are supposed to be working by now. How do you assess the success of the negotiations? Do you agree with assessments of a number of analysts?

President Putin’s visit to India in December last year was in many ways a landmark event. It was the first Annual Summit between the leaders after the new government came into office in India. They reviewed the current status of the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia and spelt out a focused agenda for the development of bilateral cooperation in diverse areas. This can be seen in the joint statement that articulates the vision of our two leaders for strengthening our partnership over the next decade. The agreements signed during the visit have substantive content and build on the objectives outlined in our Joint Statement. This justifies the assessment of analysts, both in India and in Russia, that President Putin’s visit produced tangible and significant results. We have also been energetically following on the decisions and agreements reached at the Summit. We had earlier this month in Delhi a meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation, chaired by the Defence Ministers of the two countries, which took forward progress in various areas of our defence cooperation. A number of other bilateral meetings in both defence and civilian areas are planned in the near future to carry forward the discussions at the Summit.

India is ready to supply buffalo meat and milk to the Russian market and replace European deliveries. What have the negotiations with Rosselkhoznadzor on admission of Indian companies resulted in? How many companies have already signed contracts and how many are ready to do it?

The concerned Indian authorities and Rosselkhoznadzor are in touch with each other and have established an active mechanism for resolving all regulatory matters governing trade in the agriculture and food sector. We expect to see concrete results in the coming months. In the specific case of bovine meat, we are in process of finalizing the procedural aspects like details of production quantities, veterinary certificate format, etc in respect of the Indian exporters of this product. Similarly, both sides are discussing the terms and conditions for initiating the supply of dairy products from India to Russia. There is another element here: the long shipping route for India’s agricultural products. If goods are shipped through the sea routes, they have to pass half the globe to reach St Petersburg. Therefore, it is necessary to find transportation routes that could satisfactorily meet the required demand. The talks on these issues are also going on.

Does it mean that the number of agricultural suppliers is likely to increase?

The important thing is to start. As soon as the arrangements are signed and all procedures are fulfilled, it will be possible to discuss increase in the number of suppliers. Four bovine meat companies is a progress for the start.

Will launching of the North-South transport corridor influence it (initiated by RF, India, Iran)? Will companies use it?

The North-South Corridor is a very important project. It was also discussed at the recent meeting between our leaders. The Vision Document mentions how we can cooperate to start this route at the earliest and put into place all necessary procedures. Other countries, and not just India and Russia are part of this project. We have stated that we will cooperate with other partners for early start of the route. Indeed, it will make the cost of transportation considerably cheaper. It will take half as less time as it takes now, which will immediately boost the bilateral trade. This is beneficial for all countries participating in the route due to transit fees that they would get.

At what stage are the talks with Russia on this corridor now? Have you already agreed all the parameters with Russian Railways?

We have discussed this issue with several Russian Ministries and Departments, including Russian Railways and Russian Ministry of Transport and also with companies. There are issues of containers and how the empty containers will be returned, other technical issues, such as those related to customs. The progress is on.

If the corridor is launched, how long will it take for the Indian companies to start shipping goods to Russia via this route?

This depends not only on companies but also on when the project itself starts working. The corridor can be opened as soon as the customs offices of all participating countries agree on all necessary procedures, and more importantly when the exporters themselves start acting on it. As soon as the corridor is operational, India will start using it immediately. Our exporters are interested in it as are the Russian ones.

The visit of the US President, Barack Obama, to India has taken place almost one month after the visit of the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. Some analysts point out that this fact is not a coincidence, and it reflects New Delhi’s direction towards closing-in with the USA at the expense of the traditional strategic relations with Russia. What is your assessment of such statements?

International relations are not a zero-sum game. Russia is India’s special and privileged strategic partner and will remain so. The best answer to your question is to quote what our Prime Minister said in his media statement in New Delhi on December 11, standing alongside President Putin: “President Putin is a leader of a great nation with which we have a friendship of unmatched mutual confidence, trust and goodwill. We have a Strategic Partnership that is incomparable in content. The steadfast support of the people of Russia for India has been there even at difficult moments in our history. It has been a pillar of strength for India's development, security and international relations. India, too, has always stood with Russia through its own challenges. The character of global politics and international relations is changing. However, the importance of this relationship and its unique place in India's foreign policy will not change. In many ways, its significance to both countries will grow further in the future.”

Does India experience any kind of pressure from its Western partners regarding the issue of cooperation with Russia and possible joining of anti-Russian sanctions? 

India’s foreign policy is based on its values and interests and preserves India’s autonomy of action in international affairs. Our approach on sanctions has been consistent and has been made abundantly clear. The results of President Putin’s visit clearly show that our multi-faceted economic cooperation with Russia is in fact expanding in volume and diversity.

Does India plan to conclude new additional contracts on increasing deliveries of potassium fertilizers from Russia or will it confine itself to purchasing a share in “Acron”?

We consider fertilizers as a priority sector for India-Russia cooperation. A joint sub-group on fertilizers meets every year to review the progress and explore new projects for bilateral cooperation in the sector. Indian companies buy large volumes of fertilizers from Russia. The recently signed MOU between NMDC and ACRON on joint partnership in mining assets is a good beginning. We are looking for more projects in mining, including fertilizers and coal. 10. Which are the contracts in question? For sure the negotiations still continue in several directions and at different levels. Commercial negotiations are ongoing and it is too early to talk about the details. The contracts which are to be signed are not at intergovernmental level but between companies.

Do you see the prospects for growth of the trade turnover with Russia in the coming year? Through which branches can the breakthrough be achieved?

Our trade and investment exchanges received special attention at the recent Summit. Our Prime Minister drew attention to the shared belief that in today’s world, vibrant economic relations constitute a key pillar of a strong strategic partnership. We have been working with our Russian partners to strengthen existing sectors of bilateral trade like fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, machinery, plantation and agricultural commodities, etc. Additionally, our emphasis is on developing new areas of economic cooperation in hydrocarbons, direct trade in rough diamonds, dairy & meat products, etc. We are hopeful that despite the global economic slowdown, our bilateral trade will see positive growth.

Though you have already signed a contract with ALROSA.

This is just the beginning. Let me mention that long-term contracts between ALROSA and several Indian companies were signed in December 2014. But we hope to create conditions for ALROSA to trade directly in India and organize auctions for the sale of diamonds in India. Today such auctions are held in different countries: Belgium, Dubai, but not in India. According to them, this is because the conditions for auction in India are not optimum for them. The Indian government has committed itself to create the conditions for ALROSA to make diamond sales profitable in India. This is under process. Let me remind you that during the World Diamond Conference in New Delhi (in December 2014), our Prime Minister briefed President Putin on the establishment of special zones where diamonds can be sold. But there are other issues that must be solved: security, taxes. We are working on them so that ALROSA is able to come to India. And this will be a breakthrough.

And when will it happen?

As soon as all the conditions are created for the company. ALROSA is a commercial company. It will start selling as soon as it is advantageous for them. Now the ball is on the Indian side, and we have to create all the conditions. And I think in the next 2-3 months, many of these logistical and procedural issues would be resolved. And I hope that by the end of this year everything will be settled.

And the same applies to the issue of having diamond auctions in India?

Of course it does. Just as in Dubai or Antwerp we have diamond exchanges in India. And auctions are organized there. Different companies participate in the auctions. When we create suitable financial and tax conditions - ALROSA will surely participate.

India has invited Russian enterprises to take part in PM Modi’s initiative “Make in India”. Have there already been any proposals from the Russian side?

‘Make in India’ is a major national program which is designed to facilitate investment, foster innovation, enhance skill development, protect intellectual property and build best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure in India. We are very happy to see the enthusiasm and interest with which Russian enterprises, both in the defence and civilian sectors, responded to the ‘Make in India’ initiative. A number of projects are under discussion at both government and corporate levels in sectors like high-technology, infrastructure, railways, aviation and power, among others.

At which stage the negotiations on transactions in national currencies between Russia and India are?

Both India and Russia are of the view that transactions in national currencies would be mutually beneficial for our bilateral economic cooperation. Our two Central Banks are working on modalities and are expected to make concrete recommendations to our governments shortly.

How well do the negotiations on the free trade zone between India and the Eurasian Economic Union go?

At which stage the elaboration of the Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation in the Format India – Eurasian Economic Union is? At the Summit, our two leaders agreed that the initiative of India and the Eurasian Economic Commission for a Joint Study Group (JSG) to explore the feasibility of a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement covering trade in goods, services, investment cooperation, movement of natural persons and mutual recognition of standards, is of great importance for bilateral economic cooperation. Russian has confirmed that it will support the productive work of the JSG, so that it completes its study within an optimal timeframe. We expect to commence this engagement with the Eurasian Economic Commission in the near future.

Overall, how do you assess the results of the Russia-India Summit and the visit of Minister Shoigu to New Delhi in the context of Russia-India military-technical cooperation?

The Military Technical Co-operation between two countries is developing very well. Cooperation between India and Russia in the military-technical sphere goes back to Soviet times. The Indian armed forces have successfully utilized Russian Weapon System and various categories of frigates and destroyers for the Navy besides a number of missiles, artillery and other weapon systems. The new tendency in the relationship is the joint development of advanced technology weapon system. FGFA, MTA and Brahmos Missile are examples of joint development of weapon systems incorporating sophisticated technology. Joint production is a unique and privileged relationship. At the IRIGC-MTC meeting on January 21, the two sides reviewed the progress on the various projects of our defence cooperation, identified areas of new potential and took decisions which would fast-track progress on a number of projects. A new dimension was on projects that could be fitted into the framework of “Make in India” initiatives. Russian defence enterprises are in a particularly advantageous position in this regard since they have long experiences of working in India with Indian enterprises.

Is it possible that India will buy Russia’s Su-30MKI, which have long been operated by the Indian Air Force, instead of French Rafale fighters? In your opinion, how much probable is that?

We have longstanding programme of cooperation in Russia on the Su-30MKI aircrafts which has included both acquisition and licensed production. I do not want to speculate on the relationship between our ongoing Su-30 MKI programme and other acquisitions being envisaged by the Indian Air Force. But everything else - whether some contract will be signed or if one party will not include the other –these are just speculations.

But is India planning to purchase additional Su-30 MKI?

It depends on the Indian Air Force procurement program. There will always be a scope for discussions on this issue since Russia is our biggest partner in the defence sector. And we will continue to have discussion on new platforms that we want to develop, as in the case with helicopters.

At which stage the work on creating the joint Russia-India fifth-generation fighter (FGFA) is at present? Has the full-scale model already been assembled? Does it make flights?

The IGA for the joint development of FGFA was signed in October 2007. (The first flight of the Russian Version of Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation (PAK-FA) took place from Komsomolsk-on-Amur.) The recent meeting of the IRIGC-MTC discussed progress in the FGFA project and have taken decisions to take the project forward.

Has India laid any official claims to the Russian side during the work on creating the fifth-generation fighter? Do Indians get access to all the technologies, the disclosure of which is covered by the contract?

Some press sources reported that India is not satisfied with some issues. As I have mentioned, India and Russia have a unique relationship of joint research, development and production of military defence systems. We have had excellent results in our bilateral cooperation and are fully satisfied with the access to technologies that our defence enterprises get. We proceed with the same level of cooperation in the development of the FGFA. Speaking of military-technical cooperation, there is a lot of misinformation, including those which may have been supplied by competitors. And we must understand that many of these media reports are written by people who are not interested in this project - for whatever reasons. So they do not necessarily tell the truth. Or they report it on the basis of their own understanding and not on the views of the government or the establishment.

At which stage the work on creation of the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) is?

When the contract on the development and engineering activities is to be signed? The joint design, development and production of MTA is progressing. At the recent IRIGC-MTC meeting, the two sides have agreed on the modalities for fast-tracking progress. Both sides have decided to speed up the work of the project. Apparently, this multi project differs from other projects and that is why it takes more time to discuss all the details. But I hope that by the end of 2015, we will be able to agree on a very clear and detailed timetable.

In December, Russia and India signed documents that expand our cooperation in the nuclear field. According to them, within the next 20 years, up to 12 nuclear units can be built with Russian participation. Are the sites for new power blocks already designated?

The process of selecting second site in addition to Kudankulam is at a very advanced stage. But there are several factors that have to be taken into consideration. It is necessary to have a lot of tests, to resolve a lot of issues, legal and others. So I cannot comment on it in detail now.

When will the contract on the development of a miniature version of the “BrahMos” missile – “BrahMos-M” be signed?

The production of the jointly developed Brahmos missile in India is proceeding satisfactorily. The system has been inducted into the Indian Army and Navy. The air version of Brahmos is expected to undergo trials soon. Both sides are actively discussing the development of the Brahmos Mini Version; technical discussions are going on.

Does New Delhi intend to expand its cooperation with Moscow in purchases of Russia’s latest air defence systems?

Discussions on defence cooperation between India and Russia are dynamic and cover existing defence platforms, future acquisitions and joint development. I would not like to comment on specific systems.

How does New Delhi assess Russia’s most recent contacts between Moscow and Islamabad and the signed agreement on military-technical cooperation?

As India’s Ambassador to Russia, I would like to focus on defence cooperation between India and Russia as an important pillar of our strategic cooperation. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on Russia’s relations with third countries.

When might India-Pakistan settlement negotiations, which were cancelled earlier, be held?

Pakistan states that in this issue “the ball is on Delhi’s side”. India’s keenness to establish relations of trust, confidence and mutually beneficial cooperation with every one of our neighbours has been amply demonstrated by our words and deeds over the past decades. Pakistan is not exception to this. We have consistently said that we would be happy to engage with Pakistan on all outstanding issues in our bilateral relationship when the right atmosphere free from shadow of terrorism is created.

The Head of the Russian MFA, Lavrov, stated earlier that the issue of India and Pakistan entering the SCO will be a priority at the Summit in Ufa. Is New Delhi ready for it to be arranged this year?

India has sustained the engagement with SCO and has contributed meaningfully to its activities as an observer in the organization. Its formal application for the full membership of the SCO was made last year and considered at the SCO Summit in Dushanbe. We appreciate Russia’s support for India’s membership to SCO which was also reaffirmed in the joint statement issued during President Putin’s visit. India is ready to join SCO as a full member whenever this takes place. I can only say that Russia has always supported our desire to become a member of the SCO and has done its best to make it come true.

First published in Russian by RIA Novosti. The English version was published by Embassy of India in Moscow.

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