What are the obstacles that hamper Indo-Russian ties?

13 April 2017 Ksenia Zubacheva
Moscow and Delhi more often than not share a common vision for addressing global challenges. Yet obstacles such as logistics and lack of media coverage hamper further development of bilateral ties.
RIBR RIR Hindi India newspaper
Indians do not get enough access to impartial news from Russia. Pictured: RBTH print supplement to the Navbharat Times, 2012. Source: Alexander Antipin/TASS

2017 is special for both India and Russia as the countries mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. Moscow and New Delhi established diplomatic relations on April 13, 1947, four months before India gained independence from the British rule.

Since that time both countries have changed a lot. India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has a population of almost 1.3 billion people while Russia struggled to find its place in the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 but in two decades managed to make its way back on the international stage as an important player.

What unites Russia and India

“Both India and Russia had a very turbulent and very difficult history,” Indian Ambassador in Russia Pankaj Saran said during a press conference in Moscow on April 6. “But we are both very proud of our own cultures, we are very proud of our civilisations, we are very proud of our own identity. And this is what keeps us together – the pride in our own cultures.”

“Both our countries are united in the belief that the global community must respect different cultures, respect different civilisations and treat other countries on the basis of equal respect and respect for sovereignty,” he said.

Indeed, over the period since 1947 Moscow and Delhi more often than not have shared a common vision on issues of international and regional importance, no matter what kind of transitions were taking place globally. While India keeps a wary eye on developments in Russia’s relations with Pakistan and China, for Moscow, New Delhi remains a privileged and strategic partner in Asia and it takes Indian interests in mind.

“Further deepening of the privileged strategic partnership with India is among the key priorities of Russian foreign policy. Strong friendship ties, trust and mutual support as well as common views on most urgent questions of today’s world are at the foundation of our partnership,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote in an open letter to the participants of the ‘Russia-India Strategic Dialogue’ conference held in Moscow on April 7. 

According to Vyacheslav Trubnikov, member of the board of directors of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Ambassador to India (2004-2009), when one speaks about a privileged strategic partnership it might only be attributed to India.

“I actually cannot think of any other partner country with which we share such a close and strategic relationship. I cannot think of any other country with which Russia has the same level of cooperation in nuclear energy as it does with India,” he said.

External factors, most importantly, the instability in the global security architecture that had been visible with the recent events in Syria and terror acts in Russia push decision-makers in both Delhi and Moscow to come together and think about ways for joining forces in addressing common security challenges. The upcoming accession of India to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June will provide more opportunities for the countries to discuss common agenda on yet another platform.

Over the course of the 70-year history of the relationship, Moscow and Delhi have achieved considerable success not only in nuclear energy, but also in military-technical cooperation. The countries regularly hold joint military drills and the level of trust that Russia shows by offering India cutting-edge technologies in defense gives a clear sign that the Kremlin is willing to boost cooperation in this traditional sector and open a new chapter in bilateral ties.

Logistics and information gap

Of course, there are setbacks as well. No one can deny that the economic relationship is performing well below potential. According to statistics from both countries, over the last three years, the trade turnover between the countries didn’t even come close to $10 billion. Logistical and infrastructure problems present a clear obstacle that hampers development in this area.

The North South Transport Corridor project that is moving closer to reality with dry runs planned to be conducted as part of 70th anniversary celebrations might be a first step in providing the necessary momentum for boosting trade between the countries. The project will connect Russia and northern Europe to India and Southeast Asia and will serve as a bridge to connect the railways of Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia.

Another important problem that does not help the already widening gap between the public in India and Russia is the lack of media coverage of Russia in the Indian media and vice versa. As noted by the participants of the press conference of the Indian Ambassador in Moscow on April 6, even though people in both countries still have the warmest attitude toward each other the existing information gap presents one of the most urgent problems in the bilateral relationship, and might lead to misunderstanding and distrust in the long run.

Back in Soviet times, for instance, there were a number of publications and radio channels that broadcasted information from Russia in a variety of Indian languages. In contrast, today there are very few Russian correspondents in India, and almost no media publications that offer news from Russia in Hindi, not to mention in other regional languages. The situation is similar with respect to the Indian media: There are practically no Indian correspondents in Moscow and the public only reads about Russia in Western newspapers and online sources.

According to Vyacheslav Nikonov, Chairman of the Board of the Russkiy Mir Foundation and Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education and Science, the lack of media coverage impacts public opinion in both countries. Today the image of Russia in Indian media is deteriorating and is the worst it has been in a decade, Nikonov noted at the conference on April 7.

With Russia aiming to boost its role in the Asia-Pacific region, India is one of the most important countries to have a healthy and stable relationship with. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Minister for Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Russian Far East Yuri Trutnev, and Deputy Minister of Telecom and Mass Communication Alexey Volin have all travelled to India in the first months of 2017 and it is our hope that these high-profile visits are a good sign that our partnership gets a new fresh update in the near future.

Ksenia Zubacheva is the Executive Editor of the Russia & India Report.

This article was specially written for The Pioneer, New Delhi.

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