The India-Russia bilateral summit held in Goa on October 15 along with the BRICS summit signals a significant chapter in the evolving relations between the two old friends. The slew of agreements signed during the summit indicates that India has kept full trust again in its ally for decades for defence deals. The purchase of S-400 Triumf long-range air defence system from Russia testifies India’s recognition of Russia as a power with high-tech capability.
India’s desire side to seek maximum collaboration from the Russian Government in the energy sector is a reflection of the latest appraisal made by the Modi Government that it is far more beneficial for India to deal with Russia in defence and energy matters than with the United States. In the period after the installation of the Modi regime, the US pressure was at its peak, and an impression was gaining ground that the Modi government will delink itself to a big extent from Russia regarding defence deals and switch over to the US for defence purchases. The Goa agreements have nullified that impression.
At political level, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally relented to the pressure of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of old friend India, and unequivocally condemned the Pakistan’s terror mechanism and assured him of all possible help in its endeavour to fight terrorism.
In recent times, the relation between the two countries has strained considerably with India embracing the USA as its new defence saviour. Impressions have been gaining ground that India is determined to drop its old trusted friend for America. This notion further gained strength with India signing logistics deal with the USA. It merely reinforced the general feeling that India has become a member of the friends’ club of the USA.
Indian think-tanks and Sangh academics added to the situation by questioning Putin’s move to impart military training to the Pakistani soldiers in their quest to fight terrorism. These people argued that since Pakistan has been the fountainhead of terrorism and a rogue state, this was merely a move to endanger the Indian interest.
Nevertheless, the agreement reached between Putin and Modi make it explicitly clear that Russia treats India as its best friend. It was the intervention of erstwhile USSR that saved the situation for India in Kashmir a number of times, and in 1971, during the India- Pakistan war in December over Bangladesh, it was the Soviet threat that stopped the US naval fleet to come to the shores of India in aid of Pakistan.
Modi said: “Russia’s clear stand on the need to combat terrorism mirrors our own. We deeply appreciate Russia’s understanding and support of our actions to fight cross-border terrorism that threatens our entire region. We both affirmed the need for zero tolerance in dealing with terrorists and their supporters.”
India signed 16 trade and defence agreements with Russia on October 15. The fact cannot be denied that the summit provided the firm platform for India to ensure gains against Pakistan and also consolidate its global position.
India and Russia displayed strong bilateral ties setting aside recent discord and came out strongly against terror. Both sides signed 16 significant deals including one on S-400 missile systems, a game-changer in countering airborne threats.
Besides the agreement on the missile system — worth nearly Rs 39,000 crore — Russia, as a show of “special and privileged strategic partnership”, also agreed to sell Kamov 226T helicopters and four Krivak class stealth frigates to India. The Kamov 226T helicopters will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Rostec State Corporation of Russia under a joint production plan.
Significantly Modi announced; “The agreements on the manufacturing of Kamov 226T helicopters, construction of frigates, and acquisition and building of other defence platforms are in synergy with India’s technology and security priorities. They also help us achieve the objectives of Make in India”.
As his strategy to reach out to Russia, Modi also quoted the famous Russian adage; “As they say in Russian, ‘an old friend is better than two new friends’”. This statement of Modi is quite significant. In recent times India has been trying to find solace in its new friend the USA. Over the last few years, Moscow has witnessed growing India-US defence and strategic ties.
Modi’s observation is quite important: “Russia will remain India’s major defence and strategic partner” and that his meeting with Putin has laid “the foundations for deeper defence and economic ties in the years ahead.” India and Russia stressed the need for a robust international legal regime built on the principle of “zero tolerance” for direct or indirect support of terrorism. India and Russia also agreed to jointly hold a military technology conference - with private and public sector participation - and to set up science and technology talks for joint research in defence technology.
Many of the deals finalised in Goa will also help Modi claim the attraction of his “Make in India” initiative. “The multi-purpose helicopters (Ka-226T choppers) and the frigates will be assembled here in India,” Putin said. That way, the agreements clearly show that Russia is now an active partner of the Make in India initiative in the defence sector. The US companies are claiming that they are ready to become partners in Modi’s Make in India programme and F-16 and F-18 manufacturing are being considered as a part of that. Now Russian companies are offering more favourable terms to the Indian side in the defence sector, and that is sure to make a big difference in future negotiations.
(The views expressedare strictly personal.)