Modi and Putin's predestination
PM Modi’s Far East visit heralds stronger bilateral ties between India and Russia
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Vladivostok, Russia, the wheel of history seems to be making positive corrections in India's vision for a New World Order. The current ruling dispensation has realised that keeping all eggs in one basket can never be a wise proposition and the perception of India sitting on America's lap must go sooner than later. Modi, in his second tenure, wants to follow the path of Jawahar Lal Nehru's Non-Alignment—a time tested policy.
Modi is the first Indian prime minister to visit the Russian Far East region, where he participated in the 20th India-Russia annual summit and the 5th meeting of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF). His visit has surely given a new direction, energy and impetus to relations between the two countries. In the summit-level meeting between Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, 25 pacts were signed. They cover areas ranging from oil and gas, deep-sea exploration, energy, space, connectivity and minerals. Modi's presence at the time of signing these agreements between the two nations underscores the importance of beginning a new era.
Russian Far East is a gargantuan landmass with very rich natural resources. But it is an area with very less population and hugely lagging in development. Putin has timely sensed the shifting of global economics to Asia and made a diversified plan for the evolution essentially because of China's apparent dominance in the Far East. For more than three years, Russia has been specifically focussing on the development of this region. An Indian delegation that included representatives of 140 companies and the chief ministers of various states had visited Vladivostok last month. After Modi's visit, doors for a maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok have been opened which will give an astounding boost to business activities. The route will bypass Europe and cargo transfers will take almost half the time – 24 days instead of current 40.
Bilateral trade between India and Russia is around $10 billion at the moment. Indian energy companies are now investing in Russia's upstream sector. They have already acquired stakes in hydrocarbon assets. A consortium of oil companies has plans to pick up sizable stakes in eastern cluster oil fields in Russia. India's decision to go ahead with the purchase of S-400 missile defence system is an important step. Despite the threat of US sanctions, this $5 billion contract is significant of the emphasis India has given to defence engagement with Russia. Modi is keen for Russian assistance in manufacturing defence equipment in India that can be sold to other countries. The Agreement on Reciprocal Logistics Support (ARLS) will facilitate access to each other's military facilities.
Russia's recent gesture that 'India's decision on Kashmir is a sovereign decision which is as per its constitution' and that 'Moscow follows a policy of non-interference in domestic affairs of countries' is a reconfirmation that it finds Modi 2.0 a different person and is keen to revive the cordiality it had with India during the happy days of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Putin had initially ignored India on Afghanistan, but now he has made a course correction and feels that India's involvement remains necessary for the long-term stability in war-torn Afghanistan. It is a good sign that the top leadership of both countries has recognised the challenges of new global trends and is taking corrective measures.
When major powers are redefining their ties, India and Russia cannot remain aloof. Modi's recent visit has certainly created a favourable momentum but would require a sink with contemporary realities, mutual trust and regular outreach. Most will depend on how India deals with western pressures in times to come. It was Vladivostok from where the Soviet Union had dispatched its nuclear-armed warship in support of India during the 1971 war with Pakistan that gave birth to Bangladesh. Almost five decades from now, when US and British Navies tried threatening India, USSR's Pacific Fleet lost no time to respond in Indira Gandhi's favour.
India's willingness to work with the US for the idea of an 'Indo-Pacific region' is still a cause of concern for Russia. But Putin is matured enough to understand that it is important for India to counter China's emphatic maritime rise. But at the same time, India is careful that its foreign policy choices are not influenced. During Sochi informal summit last year, Modi could convince Putin that Indo-Pacific is not aimed at anything else than stability and inclusiveness. At the Shangri-La dialogue, Modi made it clear that "Indo-Pacific is not a club of limited members and India wants to have engagement with all the relevant stakeholders".
These efforts helped in removing the unnecessary clouds of apprehensions for Putin. Russia also does not want China to become a hegemon in the Eurasian region. For that, it needs cooperation from India, Vietnam and Indonesia. Apart from India, 17 other countries have already invested in the Far East. The land is going to create many opportunities for Indian professionals, especially, doctors, engineers and teachers. Indian manpower can also occupy huge space there in the near future.
Modi feels that his para-diplomacy can also play a significant role to improve his chemistry with Putin. He has directed states such as UP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana and Goa to collaborate with various Russian provinces to increase trade and investments. Financial experts have different views on this. But a vast section in the government corridors is of the opinion that when the US is trying for deglobalisation and China is aggressively pushing for globalisation with Chinese characteristics, India and Russia must explore everything possible to make their ties stronger.
Though most foreign affair experts believe that foreign policy is a matter of costs and benefits, I trust that it is theology that also plays a major role in international relations. The nations indulge in natural hatred and natural fondness because of unexplained historical reasons. The Nation, prompted by deep ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels its government to war, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives.
A great deal has to do with classical circumstances, historical sentiments and perception of people. People of India perceive USSR-Russia as a believable buddy. No other superpower has that place in Indian minds. Similarly, Russians see Indians as superbly trustworthy than any other folks around. It is a priceless asset of goodwill both countries possess. Therefore, India and Russia are destined to take the future journey in the global arena with hands in hands closely held. This predestination, more than any other mundane intent, is stimulating Modi and Putin to walk in the required direction together.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. The views expressed are strictly personal)