New energy, new horizons: India-Russia ties moving into higher orbit
In all likelihood, it will only be possible to accurately evaluate the results of the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi only after some time, when the plans that have been announced start being implemented. But it is already possible to say that the summit’s results really do open up fundamentally new perspectives for cooperation. And it is not just about 20 documents that were signed. This is perhaps for the first time in recent years that the documents encompassed such a wide range of issues that they should eliminate some of the imbalances that have characterised our cooperation in the recent past.
It is no secret that bilateral relations between Russia and India, as in the past between the Soviet Union and India, have always been characterised by the highest degree of understanding. Between our two countries, there has never been principal political and ideological differences, and even during the “struggle between two systems,” the USSR and India is an example of how you can build a relationship of friendship, ignoring the difference between the social and political order. However, the main problem in relationships always was, and unfortunately remain to this day, their economic component. The current volume of bilateral trade, which is around $11 billion per annum, clearly is far below potential. Compared to it, India and China, despite serious political problems, are managing bilateral trade of $70 billion, and the Russian-Chinese trade has almost reached $100 billion.
Furthermore, the main feature of bilateral economic ties has always been military and technical cooperation. The summit confirmed that Russian and India will further develop their fruitful cooperation in this area, but it is necessary to consider several factors. Firstly, India has for a long time followed a policy of diversification in its armaments, and in recent years Russia has relinquished its leading position as the main supplier of arms to the US. Secondly, the new government of Narendra Modi has taken the course of re-orienting the entire economy on its own manufacturing, announcing the “Make in India” programme, which will create fundamentally new conditions, including in the military-technical sphere. This will initially increase the level of competition in the industry, and secondly, will change the nature of the relationships from the purchaser-consumer to partners in joint manufacturing. Finally, despite the importance of military-technical cooperation, it should not overshadow other areas where there is great potential, but the results are still far from the desired indicators.
Probably, the main document which was accepted at the summit was the Joint Statement entitled “Druzhba-Dosti: A Vision for Strengthening the Indian-Russian Partnership” over the next decade. This document shows that both sides intend to correct the imbalance in bilateral cooperation. The statement comprises 35 points, of which only one is directly related to military-technical cooperation, thus the value of this sphere is confirmed once more, but it states that there are other areas where cooperation is necessary and can be successfully developed.
The main section of the statement is dedicated to energy technology. And this, too, is not coincidental. Last year, the first unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant was successfully launched and reached its peak power generation in the summer of this year. At the summit, agreements were signed on the construction of the third and fourth units. Furthermore, Russia and India agreed to the construction of another 12 nuclear power plants, and this is not a limit, as Russian President Vladimir Putin observed in an interview with Indian media before his visit. Russia is prepared to build up to 25 nuclear power plants in India.
Also as part of the summit, an agreement was signed on by Russian oil from Rosneft corporation, which will deliver 10 million tonnes annually to India for 10 years. This, of course, will not satisfy all the needs of India, but will allow hedge against situations like the one that occurred in 2012. Then, under pressure from the US, India was forced to reduce oil imports from Iran, which led to higher prices not only for fuel, but also for all consumer products and eventually became one of the factors leading to the defeat of the Manmohan Singh government.
One of the main barriers to the development of Russian-Indian trade and economic relations is the geographical distance between our countries and the lack of a common border. And here it is important to note that the joint statement clearly shows the readiness of both sides to make joint efforts to ensure that the long-cherished project of an international “North-South” transport corridor finally starts working fully. If this project is implemented, it will give a new impetus to the integration processes in the vast area covering Northern Eurasia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central and south Asia. The same goals should serve to grant India full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation - Russia’s readiness to contribute to this was also confirmed in the statement.
To list all the innovative aspects contained in the documents adopted at the summit is hardly possible - they really cover a wide range of topics, from innovative technology to cut diamonds. But I would like to note the profound symbolism of the summit and the documents that were signed, which is evident even in the wording.
Symbolically, the two previous meetings between President Putin and Prime Minister Modi were in some way connected with the BRICS - one took place during the summit of the grouping in Brazil in July, the other in November, when in Brisbane on the sidelines of the G20 summit, a meeting of the BRICS’ leaders was held. Thus, the Russian-Indian cooperation goes beyond the scope of bilateral relations and is becoming one of the cornerstones on which the new world order is being established, which challenges any attempt to preserve a unipolar world order.
The name of the joint vision document is also deeply symbolic: Druzhba-Dosti. Even the English version of the statement uses these words from Russian and Hindi, which speaks about our countries’ intention to build their relations in all spheres (from cut diamonds to financial payments) directly, not turning to third parties or paying attention to criticism which detractors are ready to make (or have made already).