Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Russian President Vladimir Putin holding their annual bilateral Russian-Indian summit on October 15-16, preponing the December meet in Goa coinciding with the BRICS Summit has not at all come as a surprise, what indeed has been intriguing is India’s willingness to enter into a major defence deal with Russia. This is the third annual summit of Modi with Putin.
Even after two years of the declaration of Druzhba-Dosti, A Vision for Strengthening the Indian-Russian Partnership over the Next Decade, is yet to acquire a concrete character and momentum. In the joint statement issued during Putin’s visit to India in December 2014, for the 15th Annual Summit between the two countries, both Modi and Putin had agreed on a vision for strengthening the India-Russia partnership over the next decade.
Recognising that the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia has been built on the strong foundation of mutual trust, bilateral understanding and unique people-to-people affinities, the leaders emphasised that the time has come for a significant broad-basing of bilateral cooperation to carry the friendship between the countries to a qualitatively new level.
The last summit meeting was held in December 2015 in Moscow. But during the earlier meets, the element of eagerness was missing.
The annual summit meeting between Modi and Putin is the highest institutionalised dialogue mechanism under the strategic partnership between India and Russia. The two leaders will talk about civil nuclear energy, defence, hydrocarbon sector, satellite navigation, visa simplification and issues relating to banking. The deals that are to be signed include purchase of S-400 air defense missile system, IL-78 multi-role tanker transport by India and the joint upgrading of the SU30MKI and Kamov 28. Naturally, a question arises: What made India to look towards Russia?
The primary motive behind entering into a defence deal worth millions of dollars with Russia, during the summit level meeting, has been to engage Russia. At this stage of global politics, it is more imperative to have Russia on the right side than sacrificing the national interest for the sake of friendship.
The way Russia has been expanding its reach in the South East Asia has been a major cause of concern for the Western World. With Russia moving closer to China, it is essential and also in the interest of India that it should strengthen its bond with Russia.
One thing is absolutely clear that the role of Russia in Syrian war and moreover the cease fire between Russia and the US has simply upgraded the former’s status. The USA offering Russia a new military pact against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida in Syria manifests emergence of Russia as a major player in the global politics.
The proposal presented to Putin by the US Secretary of State John Kerry showed the US offering intelligence and targeting sharing, and even joint bombing operations. True enough it is a pact Moscow long had wanted, but the Obama administration resisted. One thing is sure the development would dramatically improve the Russian position among the global fraternity, especially in the Muslim countries.
Barack Obama relinquishing office in January 2017 has also turned the scenario opaque. It is baffling to comprehend the attitude and approach of the US towards India under the new president. Already the US has started arm twisting tactics against India. Nevertheless there is no need to read too much of the annual summit between India and Russia. Modi is already determined to alter the basic character of the Indian polity and also the multi polar character of India’s foreign policy.
According to him this is the best strategy to suit India and its global interest. India may redefine its Russian policy in the New Year. By that time the new US president would be in complete command of the situation.
Nevertheless the Indian government ought to realise that Moscow’s support both in economy and defence fields has always been crucial for achieving strategic goals. Interestingly while negotiations with other nuclear countries on nuclear energy cooperations are still hanging on, the second nuclear block built with Russia’s help has been completed recently.
The same is the case with the Make in India campaign. While other countries are still dithering, Russia is already in action. Russia is the first country to have agreed to take the initiative under the Make in India umbrella in two key strategic sectors — nuclear and defence. This move is perceived as Russian trust in India’s economy.
Moscow has always supported India’s interests in regional competition with Beijing and that must not be compromised in the current foreign policy. Relations between India and Russia were up-graded from “strategic partnership” to “special and privileged strategic partnership” in 2010. However six years after this upgradation and two years after the assumption of power by Modi, the potential of the bilateral partnership is yet to be realised.
The Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: Politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space. Last December, Modi made his first state visit to Russia to take part in the 16th annual bilateral summit. At the summit Modi described Russia as “a strong and reliable friend,” while Putin expressed his happiness about “developing the privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.” Nevertheless the friendship is yet to be tested on touchstone.
Russia will continue to be, a dependable partner of India in defence matters and energy security, despite the relationship with other countries developed by Russia or developed by India. One thing is absolutely correct that a strong Indo-Russian relation would change the political equilibriums of Asian continent.
Since India has limited reserves of natural gas, it would be a concrete opportunity to diversify its energy supply and a necessary provision in order to support economic growth and meet rising domestic demand of energy resources. However energy collaboration could also involve Russian oil.
During the October summit of Modi and Putin the expansion of economic ties, investments and more participation in oil and gas exploration projects are expected to be at the top of agenda. Possibility of Russia and companies participating in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) will also be part of the discussions.
The volume of current bilateral trade between the two countries is around $10 billion and both sides aim to take it to $30 billion over the next 10 years. Russia, which has been India’s traditional defence partner, is believed to be chalking out an aggressive defence plan even as it is worried over the growing defence relationship between India and the US. American defence exports to India have grown to a staggering $13 billion. India and Russia are also expected to discuss the expansion of the civil nuclear cooperation between them. During the Summit a number of agreements are expected to be signed between India and Russia for greater economic cooperation, especially in the energy sector. Both are also likely to discuss the possibility of commencing talks for a Free Trade Agreement between India and the Eurasian Economic Union.
Relations between India and Russia have been based on defence acquisition, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, space cooperation, trade and commerce, science and technology, culture and people to people ties.
Unfortunately some elements of dissonance have appeared between the two countries over the last few years. But these primarily owed to growing defence relationship between India and USA. India signing three “foundational” defence agreements with USA; Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-spatial Cooperation, has been the cause of serious concern for Russia.
Modi and Putin need to give much greater personal attention to building and strengthening the India-Russia partnership. This task cannot be delegated to Foreign Ministers or Foreign Offices. India should quickly conclude some high-ticket defence deals with Russia. Manufacturing KAMOV-226 helicopters in India, which was discussed during Modi’s visit in December 2015, can be a game changer.
The primary motive behind entering into a defence deal worth millions of dollars with Russia, during the summit level meeting, has been to engage Russia. At this stage of global politics, it is more imperative to have Russia on the right side than sacrificing the national interest for the sake of friendship. Russia’s take in the Syrian war should pave the way.
Make in india
The same is the case with the “Make in India campaign. While other countries are still dithering, the Russia is already in action. Russia is the first country to have agreed to take the initiative under the “Make in India” umbrella in two key strategic sectors – nuclear and defence. This move is perceived as Russian trust in India’s economy.
India signing three “foundational” defence agreements with USA; Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-spatial Cooperation, has been the cause of serious concern for Russia.