Deciphering the Current State of India-Russia Relations
India and the Russian Federation’s strategic partnership and seventy-years of establishment of diplomatic relations, 1947-2017, have served as a historic benchmark in global peace and security. India and Russia, as strategic and special partners, have reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate bilaterally and also at various international forums. In the spirit of India’s foreign policy of Panch Sheel that has been the hallmark since the 1950s, this relationship is geared towards the establishment of a stable and predictable multi-polar and just world order based on sovereign equality of all States, territorial integrity and non-interference in their internal affairs and for a win-win proposition on both sides.
The Annual Summit meeting between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism that has been set up under the Strategic Partnership Dialogue between India and the Russian Federation. So far, seventeen Annual Summit meetings have taken place alternatively in India and Russia. At the Goa Summit that was held on the sidelines of BRICS Summit meeting on October 15-16, 2016, major agreements were signed, worth billions of dollars, in sectors including defence, energy, trade and investment, space and smart cities.
Important deals included various aspects of bilateral defence cooperation: Inter-Governmental Agreements (IGAs) for five S-400 ‘Triumf’ air defence missile systems, four Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) guided missile stealth frigates and a share-holders agreement for a joint venture (JV) to manufacture 200 ‘Kamov’-226 helicopters in India. Both sides also signed an important agreement for the joint study of a gas pipeline to India from Russia. In a separate agreement, a Russian consortium comprising energy giant Rosneft Oil Company, commodities trader Trafigura and private investment group United Capital Partners agreed to purchase 98 percent of Essar Oil for $10.9 billion. Rosneft also signed an agreement with ONGC Videsh for education and training in oil and gas sector. Russia has also agreed to invest $500 million into the Indian infrastructure, along with an equal investment by the newly formed National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), to form a $1 billion “Russian-Indian Investment Fund.” An MoU was signed to set up the bilateral investment fund by NIIF of India with Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), to facilitate high-technology investment in both the countries.
Takeaways from the Goa Declaration was a significant leap from Prime Minister Modi’s earlier visit to Moscow during 23-24 December 2015 Summit, which produced 17 documents covering cooperation in civil nuclear energy, defence, hydrocarbons, satellite navigation, railways, solar energy, heavy engineering, super computing, visa simplification, Ayurveda, and media. Prime Minister Modi and President Putin also adopted a Joint Statement “Shared Trust, New Horizons.’ Besides the Annual Summit meeting in December 2015, PM Modi met Russian President Putin on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) on 24 June 2016.
These events have resulted in outcomes that were considered strategically significant: firstly, it was decided to establish CEOs Council, which was akin to Joint Business Council.
Secondly, a joint task force (JTF) monitored the implementation of the recommendations of the joint study group for taking trade and economic relations between the two countries to greater heights by removing the obstacles and bureaucratic bottlenecks to bilateral trade and commerce.
Among the documents that were signed: Agreement between the Government of India and the Government of the Russian Federation on Reciprocal Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in the field of Military-Technical Cooperation. Agreement between the Government of India and the Government of the Russian Federation on Safeguard Technologies while implementing long-term cooperation in the area of joint development, operation and use of the GLONASS System for peaceful purposes.
In sync with enduring friendship, trust and confidence and commonality of interests that has withstood seven decades, both countries have pledged to contribute to the evolution of a genuine new world order, which would be stable, secure, equitable and sustainable and will be based on due respect for the cardinal principles of the UN Charter and international law and in particular to be sensitive to the genuine needs of Global South in general and India in particular.
To fulfill this vision, both sides endeavoured to strengthen relevant international institutions and mechanisms. Both countries reaffirmed that there was a need for the international community to commit itself fully to the idea of UN and emphasis on Multi-lateralism. Both countries favoured strengthening of UN’s pivotal role in promoting international security in the post-Cold War world. They stood for enhancing the efficiency of the UN and its key body, Security Council and making them more reflective of the contemporary geo-political and geo-economic realities and rendering them more representatives of the interests of the vast majority of the UN members. In this context, Russia reaffirmed its firm support to India as a strong, viable and deserving candidate for permanent membership in an expanded United Nations Security Council in the very near future. Both the countries reiterated their commitment to work towards a new cooperative security order in Asia and in the larger global scene that recognized the legitimate security interests of all countries and promoted global peace and stability and strengthened non-proliferation and disarmament goals. Both countries are fully determined to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism, and the support these phenomena receive from organized crime groups and illicit arms and drugs trafficking cartel. Both the countries regarded these as global threats, which could be effectively countered only through collective, comprehensive, determined and sustained efforts of the international community.
In the areas of defence cooperation, India and Russia have longstanding and wide-ranging cooperation. India-Russia military technical cooperation has evolved to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems.
The BrahMos Missile System, Joint design and development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, as well as the licensed production in India of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks, are examples of such flagship cooperation. Dedication to the nation of the Russian-built aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya off the coast of Goa was another example of increased cooperation in the defense arena.
While India and the Russian Federation are committed to widen and strengthen the framework of the existing cooperation in different areas and to consolidate their strategic partnership by taking it to a higher level in the years to come, some dark clouds hover over the state of uncertainty on the part of Russia on the issue of annexation of Crimea, controlling part of eastern Ukraine with the assistance of proxy rebels, access to military facilities in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Russia’s offer of support to Taliban and ISIS in the shaping of future Afghanistan as well as in demonstrating a military relationship, albeit in a limited way, by agreeing to sell four attack helicopters to Pakistan. Irrespective of geo-political and geo-economic imperatives, it is very likely that India-Russia relations will weather the challenges and will endure towards a more durable world order in which both countries will find areas of commonalities to work on and take the momentum forward. The forthcoming summit meeting in St. Petersburg in early June 2017 between Prime minister Modi and President Putin is likely to dawn a new beginning to the seven decade old tried and tested friendship and cooperation between the two countries.