India has taken a position on Syria close to that of Russia. Does it mean that we can expect a greater synergy between Russia and India on major international issues, particularly on the situation in the Middle East? What steps should be taken by Moscow and Delhi in this direction?
India and Russia have traditionally shared similar perspectives on regional and global issues, which constitute an important pillar of our strategic partnership.
The conflict in Syria is not only a tragedy for the people of that country, but also threatens the stability and security of the region and can have broader economic and security consequences beyond the region. The use of chemical weapons, irrespective of who used them, highlights the dangers inherent in the conflict.
India has always held that there is no military solution to this conflict, and has consistently maintained that external military intervention will only exacerbate the conflict. We worked together with Russia on this issue when India was a member of the UN Security Council. There is an urgent need to promote a political settlement to the conflict, addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. It is essential that the Geneva-2 Conference be convened at the earliest. I applaud the efforts of President Putin and the Russian Government in promoting a political settlement to the conflict and fully support the framework that Russia has worked out with the United Statesfor a time-bound elimination of chemical weapons in Syria.
What are your favorite memories from previous visits to Russia? What do you like most about the country?
I have been visiting this beautiful and historic country for several years now, and I have had the privilege of seeing a number of cities like Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, in addition to Moscow. I have always admired Russia’s rich heritage in culture, art and architecture. I have great respect for the genius and resilience of the Russian people. But what has struck me most has been the warmth and friendship of the Russian people towards India, which the Indian people fully reciprocate. Russia has been a longstanding and special partner of India. This relationship is unmatched in terms of understanding, trust, confidence and warmth. I value greatly my close and friendly relations with President Putin, and I look forward to my visit to the dynamic city of Moscow once again for the 2013 Annual Summit with President Putin.
India has expressed a desire to engage with the Customs Union, created by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. What are Indian interests in the Customs Union?
We value our economic cooperation with Russia, as well as with Belarus and Kazakhstan. India has signed Free Trade Agreements or Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with several countries, such as Thailand, Singapore, ASEAN and Japan, and we are negotiating a Broad Based Trade and Investment Agreement with the European Union. A Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between India and the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia will go a long way in enhancing economic relations between India and your Customs Union. Trade and investment links between India and Russia, in particular, would benefit greatly, and would complement various other measures that both countries are taking to promote two-way business linkages.
What are your expectations as far as the next BRICS summit is concerned? What should be done to make the structure and the mechanisms of the group more effective? What is the Indian attitude towards accepting new members to the BRICS?
President Putin has been the principal architect of the BRICS grouping. This is an important initiative in our multi-polar world. I am delighted that BRICS has become an important international forum for coordination and consultations on pressing economic and political issues of common interest. A number of new initiatives have been undertaken, including the establishment of a New Development Bank with initial subscribed capital of $50 billion, and a contingency reserve arrangement of $100 billion. These are significant measures to promote trade and investment in emerging markets. BRICS countries also meet on the margins of G20 Summits to coordinate their position on issues being taken up in the Summit. Last month, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, we held an informal meeting of BRICS leaders.
I look forward to the next BRICS Summit in Brazil taking forward these discussions. As regards our membership, South Africa has recently become a member of BRICS, and there are currently no proposals for expanding the grouping further.
What is your assessment of the two major Russian-Indian projects in the field of military-technical cooperation - the fifth generation fighter and the multi-purpose transport plane? When are the first models expected to be ready for test-flights and induction to the IAF?
We see the Fifth Generation Fight Aircraft and the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft development as two flagship projects in India – Russia military-technical cooperation. These projects symbolize the transformation of our defence cooperation from a buyer-seller relationship of the past to one that now also involves joint design, development and production of advanced defence platforms. These projects also symbolize the high degree of trust and synergy India and Russia enjoy in the defence sphere. I am happy that both projects are progressing well, and the preliminary design phase of the projects has been completed this year. Various complex and technical stages remain, including detailed design and development of prototypes, before series production can commence. We are keen that the entire process takes place as quickly as possible, so that these state-of-the-art aircraft can be inducted into the Indian Air Force.
Several agreements are expected to be signed during your visit to Moscow. Which of them will allow you to evaluate the visit as successful? What is the most important, so to say, “Number 1” field of modern Russian-Indian cooperation?
India and Russia enjoy a truly multi-dimensional relationship covering mutual political understanding, energy cooperation, defence ties, growing trade and investment, cultural and education linkages as well as warm friendship at the level of our people. I understand that agreements in many of these fields would be concluded during my visit to Moscow. However, it would not be appropriate to term a visit or a Summit as successful based on the signing of an agreement, or even attempt to categorize them inter-se. I believe all the documents that we sign are important and contribute to the strengthening of our special and privileged strategic partnership in various fields. What is most important is the commonality of approaches to international issues between India and Russia, and the mutual friendship and trust that we enjoy, which permits us to undertake joint cooperation ventures in all fields.
Last year Indian officials mentioned Russia among the countries that were supposed to be granted simplified procedure of getting a tourist visa on arrival. When can Russians expect this decision to be approved?
We are keen that Russian citizens face no impediments in their travel to India. India has already implemented a fairly liberal visa regime for Russian tourists and business travelers. In December 2010, the two countries signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement on simplification of requirements for mutual travel by certain categories of citizens of the two countries, including tourists. I am delighted that the number of tourist visas issued by us in Russia grew by 22 percent last year, and has increased by 55 percent during the first 9 months of this year. I hope this trend continues in the future. As regards the proposal of visa on arrival for Russian citizens, no decision has been taken as yet.
According to the roadmap on nuclear cooperation signed by India and Russia several years ago both sides expressed the intention to construct up to 14-16 nuclear power reactors in India. The first one is already in the final commissioning stage at Kudankulam NPP. The second one will be completed soon. But the negotiations on commercial contracts for the Blocks 3 and 4 stalled. Are the plans for the rest 12-14 blocks still valid? For four years now India has been promising to name another site for a nuclear project, apart from Kudankulam. When will it happen at last?
Civil nuclear cooperation is an important area of our bilateral partnership with Russia. We deeply appreciate Russian assistance in development of nuclear energy in India when others had shunned nuclear commerce with us. I am pleased that Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 achieved criticality in July this year and should begin to provide electricity to the grid soon. Kudankulam Unit 2 is in an advanced stage of construction. Indian and Russian companies have been holding negotiations on finalizing arrangements for Kudankulam units 3 and 4, and I am confident that these contracts would be finalized shortly. India remains interested in expanding nuclear power production in cooperation with Russia, and is committed to the full implementation of the Roadmap signed during the visit of President Putin to India in March 2010. We have already designated Haripur in West Bengal as an additional site to Kudankulam for constructing nuclear power plants in cooperation with Russia. We have also assured our Russian friends that an alternate site would be allocated, in case Haripur is not found feasible. I am confident that cooperation in nuclear energy production between our two countries will continue to deepen.
Russian-Indian trade is supposed to touch the target of $20 bln by 2015. Do you feel this plan is realistic? What should be done to overcome the existing obstacles and accelerate the growth of bilateral trade up to the existing potential? Are there any novel prospective projects that will push forward our economic cooperation, like for example the proposal of the ONGC for the construction of India-Russia oil pipeline?
India-Russia trade grew from $8.85 billion in 2011 to $11.04 billion in 2012, representing a growth of nearly 25 percent. If this pace is maintained, our trade could cross $20 billion in 2015. While we face the challenge of a difficult global economic environment, I am optimistic about the prospects for our trade and investment relations. We are encouraging greater and more active business-to-business relations, including through the India-Russia CEO’s Council and the India-Russia Trade and Investment Forum. Our Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation has placed high priority on expanding economic relations. We would like better flow of information about each other’s business capabilities, achievements and opportunities. We are keen to enhance mutual investments in areas such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, telecommunications, infrastructure, fertilizers and energy. There is continuous effort to identify new areas of economic cooperation. The hydrocarbon sector is an area of priority. We are looking to enhancing our participation in the Russian oil and gas sector. We are examining the feasibility of a proposal for direct surface transportation of hydrocarbons from Russia to India. We have also proposed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between India and the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, which we hope would be initiated soon.
The intensity of the Russian-Indian cultural ties is still lagging far behind bilateral contacts in defence and other fields. Can we expect any positive breakthrough in this regard, especially to facilitate the comeback of Bollywood films to the Russian screens? Do you personally like Russian cinema and literature? Could you name your favourite Russian books and movies?
India-Russia cultural ties are based on a strong foundation of mutual understanding, respect, affinity and appreciation for each other’s arts, culture, music, dance and cinema. Last December, we signed a Cultural Exchange Programme for 2013-15. Between September and December 2013, we are holding a Festival of Indian Culture in Russia, involving performances by 6 troupes in 10 cities across Russia. We have an active Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre in Moscow and there are similar Russian cultural centres in India. We also hope that India movies would become more accessible in Russian theatres.
Russian literature is well-known and has been very popular in India. Russian authors such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev and Mikhail Lermontov are widely read in India. Russian movies such as “Burnt by the Sun”, “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” and “Anna Karenina” have won acclaim in India and globally.
The unique family of the Roerichs is a spiritual bridge between Russia and India. Their Kullu museum is a monument of world importance. The Russians have time and again called on your government to take the IRMT under its wing. Can we expect the Central authorities to be more active in protecting the heritage of the Roerich family and taking part in the development of the Memorial Trust?
The heritage of the Roerichs in India is a valuable joint legacy and we will continue to take all necessary steps to see that it is properly cared for and developed.
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