India and Russia are celebrating 70 years of establishment of diplomatic relations. Since the establishment of bilateral relations in April 1947 (more than 3-months prior to India’s independence), the Indo-Russia friendship has grown by leaps and bounds. More significantly, the ‘relationship’ stood by the tests of time and survived despite several tectonic shifts in the arenas of – polity, economy, technology and diplomacy.
By recognizing the significance of the relations, both the countries decided to elevate the ‘Strategic Partnership’ to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership” in December 2010, which is a rare distinction in itself.
Since then, the Indo-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership has been trying to explore new areas of cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral level. Some of the emerging areas of cooperation covered under this partnership are as follows.
India-Russia bilateral defense cooperation is built on strong mutual trust. In recent decades, India-Russia military technical cooperation has evolved from a simple buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems. Some of the highlights of this cooperation are -
• India has been heavily dependent on Russian armaments with more than 70 percent of its weapons being sourced from Russia.
• Though India has increased its dependence on Israel, France and the USA for defence infrastructure in recent years, Russia is still the largest supplier of defence equipment to India in absolute terms.
• Russia’s equipment pervades all the branches of the Indian military services – Army (T-90 tanks & S-400 Defence systems), Air Force (SU-30) and Navy (INS Vikramaditya). Besides, the jointly produced BrahMos supersonic cruise missile has become a trusted weaponry for the tri-services.
• The decision to hold the first ever tri-services exercise INDRA–2017 is also an indication of deepening bilateral defence cooperation.
India is dependent on Russia for her energy needs. For an energy starving nation like India, Russia’s assistance in setting up Nuclear Power Plants and exploring hydrocarbon resources is a big relief.
In the Saint Petersburg Declaration released by both the countries in June 2017, New Delhi and Moscow vowed to build an "Energy Bridge” between both the countries by expanding bilateral relations in all areas of energy cooperation, including nuclear, hydrocarbon, hydel and renewable energy sources and in improving energy efficiency.
Some of the highlights of cooperation in hydrocarbon sector are –
• ONGC Videsh Limited has substantive investments of over USD 5 billion in two major oil and gas projects – Sakhlin-1 and Imperial Energy Limited (Tomsk). Besides, Russian companies are engaged in several power plant and oil and gas projects in India.
• In October 2016, a MoU was signed on the joint study of a gas pipeline to India and the other possible areas of cooperation. The agreement was inked between Gazprom and Engineers India Limited.
• On the same occasion, Rosneft agreed to purchase 98% of the stake in Essar Oil for $ 10.9 billion.
• Recently, both the countries expressed interest in launching joint projects on exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic shelf of Russia.
Some of the highlights of cooperation in the nuclear energy sector are –
• Russia is India’s important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It recognizes India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record.
• Construction of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) Units 1 & 2 (VVER 1000 MW units) is an example of fruitful cooperation between India and Russia, which were operationalised in July 2013 and March 2017 respectively.
• Russia also agreed to build four other units of the same capacity in Kudankulam and they will be operationalised by 2025.
India-Russia bilateral relations have always had strategic connotations to the other players in the region and the world at large. This is due to the permanent membership of Russia in the UNSC, India’s clout in the community of nations due to its economic strength, peaceful outlook, social diversity and stable and democratic polity.
Some of the highlights of this cooperation are -
• India’s membership in the SCO in June 2017 has become a reality due to the persistence of Russia on the matter. The membership helps India in expanding its reach in the extended neighbourhood i.e. Central Asia.
• Russia is a strong supporter of India’s permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
• The divergence of interests is also visible in the trilateral and multilateral forum such as BRICS, RIC and WTO.
• Russia is also a strong advocate of India’s membership in the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
• The ‘Geostragetic Quotient’ in the bilateral relations has also been rising in recent years. Factors like India’s animosity with Pakistan, frequent interruptions in India-China relations, especially due to the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Russia’s ambition to have a stake in Afghanistan polity do have a say in India-Russia strategic relations.
• Both the countries have always been united on the major global issues like Terrorism, Climate Change, etc. Issuance of a joint statement on “Partnership for Global Peace and Stability" recently is an indication of convergence of ideas on global outlook of both the countries.
Despite the growing volume of the economies of both the countries, trade relations has been the weakest link in the bilateral relations. In 2012, bilateral trade increased by 24.5% to reach USD 11 billion. However, it was declined to USD 7.7 billion in 2016.
To reverse this trend, the following measures were undertaken.
• International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) – It is an express corridor from India to Russia. It is a multi-modal connectivity project to establish transport networks for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. The INSTC also has strategic significance as it checks the growing clout of China under the aegis of Maritime Silk Road initiative.
• In October 2016, a MoU was signed to expand bilateral trade and economic cooperation during the summit level meeting between Modi and Putin in Goa.
• In October 2016, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between ALROSA Joint Stock Company (Public Joint Stock Company) and the Council for the Promotion of the Export of Precious Stones and Jewellery of India.
• To boost bilateral trade, both the countries have identified trade diversification has the rightful strategy. The future cooperation will cover aspects like - increasing the share of high-technology products in bilateral trade, fostering industrial cooperation, improving the environment for entrepreneurship and investments and developing cooperation in banking and financial matters between the two countries.
The history has proved that India and Russia are natural allies. While, in recent years, the New Delhi has chosen the path of pragmatism for achieving its foreign policy objectives, it should also factor in historical and cultural relations that she enjoyed with Russia and the Eurasian Region before building need based alliances.
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