St. Petersburg summit is a big success

With India turning towards America in the last 15 years and virtually becoming its ally, the nature of its relations with Russia has become suspect. Uncertainty loomed over India's future relations with Russia. But the International Economic Forum summit in St. Petersburg provided a new thrust, dimension, and dynamic to India-Russia relations.

India and Russia marked 70 years of diplomatic relations with a successful summit, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed their "trust-based" special relationship and signed the St Petersburg Declaration. It lays out the road map for further deepening of relations, with a greater focus on strengthening economic and energy ties.

As expected, St Petersburg has come as a boon for India and particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While the summit provided the right opportunity and ambience for Modi to forcefully appear at the global forum, it further bolstered bilateral relations. It is now for India, and particularly for Modi, how best he uses the ground made available by Putin. It is an open secret that the USA, particularly former President Barack Obama, did not encourage India to make a strong presence. Exploiting the bogey of being the true friend of India, Obama simply used it for promoting American interests in the face of China's growing influence in the region.
What was indeed reassuring and a significant gain for India was that Modi and Putin concluded the much-awaited agreement to build the last two units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. Fort quite some time things were not moving in the right direction from the Indian point of view and apprehensions were being expressed on the future of the project.

Moscow had been pushing India to sign the agreement for the past eight months, with Russia's deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin specifically taking up the issue with Modi. Russian officials described the conclusion of the agreement as the biggest takeaway from the summit. The agreement had missed two deadlines earlier. Modi said finalisation of the agreement would further deepen cooperation in civil nuclear energy between the two countries.

This was the highly-anticipated first meeting between the two after Trump took office in January. No doubt with the gains from the Summit, the Indian Prime Minister will be in a more certain frame. Counter-terrorism, maritime security, and Afghanistan will top on Modi's agenda during his two-day visit to the US from June 25, where he would be meeting Trump.

Russia and India signed five pacts, reflecting the partnership between two traditional allies. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Russia's Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the regulator of Russia's nuclear complex, will jointly build the reactors of the 6,000-megawatt plant. The final two units will have a capacity to produce 1,000 MW of power. An ebullient Modi observed: "international relations see ups and downs, but history is witness Indo-Russia relations have not seen any ups and downs".

The international fraternity was, in fact, quite appreciative of India's bold stand to boycott the 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) project, a major Chinese initiative, and participate in the summit which was a forum to counter Beijing's move. Boycotting a project of such gargantuan international implications calls for extraordinary courage of conviction. True enough, Modi demonstrated courage by refusing to send even an ambassador to attend that conclave. But India's objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is based on geostrategic considerations and is well-founded.

India's loss, if any, was compensated by the St Petersburg summit. New Delhi got more than what was expected. India will be playing a much bigger role on the global scene through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Modi thanked President Putin for playing a crucial role in getting India the SCO membership. The SCO will also have Pakistan as a member. But that will not affect India's status.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a political, economic, and military bloc founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson also added: "Hope India and Pakistan strictly follow the charter of the SCO and the idea of good neighbourliness, uphold the SCO spirit, improve their relations and inject new impetus to the development of the SCO." Both the countries attended the SCO summit on June 8 and 9 at Astana in Kazakhstan for the first time as full members. China is the leading country in SCO, and the Chinese position is that both India and Pakistan are China's important neighbours and important countries in South Asia.

Expectations are high in diplomatic circles that Putin, who was present at the meeting, will use his influence to persuade China to agree to India's bid for NSG membership. India and Russia regard the establishment of the multi-polar global order in international relations as a reflection of the natural and inevitable process of evolution of interstate relations in the 21st century. One thing is certain: India's full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will considerably enhance the organisation's capabilities to ensure peace and stability, achieve economic progress and prosperity in Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as improve the organisation's international standing.

Another significant decision reached between India and Russia was to develop a credit rating industry that is "independent from political conjecture" a move that follows apprehensions about global agencies being biased towards large economies like the US and China. In a joint declaration, Modi and Putin said they would also explore harmonisation of the respective laws in the two countries regarding credit ratings. The move assumes significance in the wake of several commentators and policy makers in India raising concerns that the global rating agencies have not been upgrading India's sovereign credit rating despite its improving economic and political fundamentals, even as China was viewed favourably by the same agencies.

Globally, there are a handful of rating agencies, and most of them are headquartered in the US. Most of the agencies including Fitch, S&P, and Moody's have given India the lowest investment grade rating.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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