The good old friend
As India takes spectacular strides collecting friends from across the world, the old, trusted friend from yesteryears enjoys a special place in India's external affairs. The relations between India and Russia are centred primarily on the areas of strategic, military, economic, and diplomatic affairs and lately, economic cooperation between the two countries have come to the forefront as both countries have set a target of reaching US$ 30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025. Given the bonhomie between these two states developed by its present leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the bilateral relationship has been further strengthened. A previous meeting of the leaders in 2018 at Sochi had only accelerated the partnership and brought to highlight the role of interaction and cooperation between the Asian giants. Traditionally, resting on the domains of politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation, and space, the bilateral India-Russia relations have been scaled up significantly with their joint economic venture. In the recent meet of the two leaders, the countries have formalised 15 major pacts, also making a point emphatically that both countries are against "outside influence" in the internal matters of any nation. This came in addition to the discussion on ways to spruce up cooperation in trade and investment, oil and gas, nuclear energy, defence, space and maritime connectivity. The 15 agreements inked between India and Russia pertain to the afore mentioned areas. PM Modi has announced $1 billion line of credit for the development of Russia's Far East. Addressing the fifth meeting of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, this announcement unveiled the country's "Act Far East" policy during Prime Minister Modi's two-day visit to Russia. India will walk "shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia in its development of the resource-rich Far East region" and the Modi government has suitably engaged nations in the east of Asia under India's new "Act East" policy. This initiative is believed to be the take-off point of India's renewed "Act Far East" policy, adding a new dimension to the economic diplomacy between India and Russia. As part of Prime Minister Modi's "Look East" vision, the "Act East" policy was developed shortly after BJP rose to power in 2014. What was initially conceived as an economic initiative, has acquired political, strategic, and cultural dimensions as dialogue and cooperation between India and Russia grew. Asia Pacific region has been a focus are of New Delhi for the last few years, but it is for the first time that India is extending a Line of Credit for development in this region. The Eastern Economic Forum seeks to focus on the development of business and investment opportunities in Russia's Far East Region and makes room for fresh opportunity to develop mutually beneficial cooperation between India and Russia. On the petro-chemicals front, India seeks Russian investment in refining projects. In a joint statement issued by the Russian government earlier, India and Russia signed on a roadmap for cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector and Moscow agreeed to look at supplying coking coal from its Far East. The two nations have moved towards expanding energy partnership in hydro and thermal power. India has invited Russian companies to invest in its oil refining and petrochemical projects in a bid to increase energy cooperation going beyond LNG supplies and stakes in Russian oil and gas fields. Considering that Indian state-owned firms have stakes in four sets of oil and gas fields in Russia, they will continue to look at investing in producing fields in the resource-rich nation. "India-Russia hydrocarbon cooperation is a major pillar of India-Russia strategic partnership and has grown over the last two decades. Notably, the last 5 years have witnessed a major boost in cooperation in this area," the Indian government's official statement clarifies. Energy is indispensable for the development of both societies and economies and it is important that global energy markets be stable, predictable and balanced so as to cater to the interests of the countries engaged in energy trade.
Diplomacy surrounding energy is bound to have implications on the geo-strategic matters at large. US President Donald Trump's erratically expressed idea to purchase Greenland is a case in point. The possession of natural resources and the power to exploit them and invite partnership over it confers greater power over a region and virtually entitles a stakeholder to all the benefits (and not necessarily the responsibilities) that come with the region. And if reaching out to space could assist this pursuit, it is all the more favourable. After more than three decades, Russia is again out play a crucial role in training people for 'Project Gaganyaan', India's manned space mission. This Rs 10,000 crore mission intends to send at least 3 Indian astronauts to space by 2022. Two unmanned flights and one manned flight will be undertaken as part of the Gaganyaan Programme, as per ISRO. Russia training Indian astronauts for Gaganyaan flight was a formally made announcement in the Vladivostok meet. With India making a mark steadfastly in the domain of space research, India-Russia space ties are sure to get a major boost with this development. India's association with Russia in the field of space goes back to 1975 when the erstwhile Soviet Union assisted India in the launch of Aryabhata, India's first satellite. India's second satellite Bhaskara was also launched from Soviet Union in 1979. And less than a decade later in 1984, the Soviets enabled a landmark accomplishment for India by accommodating Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma to fly on the Soyuz T-11 spaceship. With such a history of friendship behind and a future full of prospects, for the relations between India and Russia, we may well say that not the sky, but space is the limit!