India-Russia Relations: Prime Minister of India visited Vladivostok, Russia in September, on a two-day visit to participate in the 20th India-Russia Annual Summit and the fifth meeting of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF).

Key Takeaways from the summit

  • Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership: Both the leaders agreed to facilitate exploring the potential of their strategic partnership to the fullest while demonstrating the special and privileged nature of the partnership.
  • Russia Backed India’s decision on J&K: Russia has stated that the changes in the status are within the constitutional framework thus, supporting India’s move.
  • Development of Russian Far East: India would extend a $1 billion line of credit towards the development of the Russian Far East.
  • Maritime Route: A full-fledged maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok was proposed.
  • Collaboration in Space: Russia will help train Indian astronauts for the manned space mission Gaganyaan.
  • Intergovernmental Agreement on Promotion and Mutual Protection of Investments: Both countries agreed to speed up preparations for the signing of the same.
  • Military Cooperation: Successful implementation of the bilateral program on military and technical cooperation up to 2020 and working to update the same to extend to another 10 years.
  • Cooperation in International Issues: Reform of the UN Security Council. Russia expressed its support for India’s candidacy for permanent membership of the UNSC.
  • Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG): Russia expressed its strong support for India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
  • Asia Pacific Region: Reaffirmed their commitment to building an equal and indivisible security architecture in Asia and the Pacific region.

East Economic Forum (EEF) & Russian Far East (RFE)   The EEF was set up in 2015, soon after the breakdown of relations of Russia with the West post the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, with the mandate of “economic development of Russia’s Far East and to expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. The Far East is a region situated in the cold Siberian climate but more significantly, it shares borders with China, Mongolia, North Korea, and Japan (maritime).

  • EEF is an international forum held annually, to support the economic development of Russia’s Far East and to expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • It was established by the decree of the President of the Russian federation in 2015.
  • Serves as a platform for the discussion of key issues in the world economy, regional integration, and the development of new industrial and technological sectors, as well as of the global challenges facing Russia and other nations.
  • It is held in Vladivostok each year. The recent forum was the 5th EEF and the first instance of an Indian Prime Minister attending the EEF.

Significance of EEF for India India has in recent years shown interest in expanding its presence in RFE for achieving the twin goals of improving bilateral economic ties and pursuing strategic interests with an eye on China and the broader Indo-Pacific.

  • Russia’s the Far East is a huge landmass that is rich in energy resources but is sparsely populated and underdeveloped.
  • It is rich in natural resources like diamonds, stannary, borax materials, 50 gold, tungsten, and fish and seafood.
  • About 1/3 of all coal reserves and hydro-engineering resources of the country are here.
  • Forests of the region comprise about 30% of the total forest area of Russia.
  • The Russian leader’s attempt to diversify is aimed at lessening Russia’s growing dependence on China. The RFE continues to face the challenges of demographic decline, outmigration, harsh weather conditions, concerns about the business climate, lack of infrastructure and connectivity. These have been further exacerbated by Russia’s own slowing economic growth rate and the impact of western sanctions. India has unveiled the Russian edition of India’s ‘Look East, Act East’ policy, and has pledged to extend a $1 billion Line of Credit to Russia’s Far East region (RFE). It is expected to help finance Indian business projects in the region, and will be the “take-off point for Act Far East”.

Indo-Russia relationship is a time-tested relationship where both the countries recognized development as a key pillar of their relations. The relationship has gained its momentum after the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000. Historical Perspective of Indo Russian Relationship Indo-Russian relations began to blossom only in the 1960s and 1970s. Over the past several decades, Indo-Russian relations had been marked by a high degree of political and strategic trust. As the relationship evolved, it gained strength based on five pillars such as similar political and strategic perceptions of the world; intensive military-technical cooperation; strong economic bonds;  deep ties in science and technology; and people-to-people and cultural links.

  • At the Beginning: India and Russia's similar political and strategic outlook was reflected in the positions the two countries took on international issues through the second half of the 20th century.
  • In 1971, India signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union to balance a China-U.S. rapprochement, a move that performs a vital role in Russia’s interpretation of Indian foreign policy to date.
  • The two countries' military-technical cooperation, has shown extraordinary levels of depth over the years. Russia has provided India entire production lines on military platforms - from aircraft to tanks.
  • In the 1980s, the then-unprecedented lease of a nuclear-powered submarine by the Soviet Union to India served as a reminder of the unique strategic trust shared by the two countries.
  • Post-Cold War: The post-cold war duration was considered to be the worst years of Indo Russian relationship for several reasons like economic activity declined, cultural cooperation collapsed, collaboration in science and technology slid down, and military-technical cooperation took a precipitous drop.
  • The substantive relationship between the two countries was cemented with the signing of the Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership in October 2000.
  • This was further elevated to the level of Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in December 2010.
  • India (with Pakistan) became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and it also engages with Russia in the BRICS forum.
  • The converging security interests of the two nations at the global and regional levels is the factor that strengthens the foundation of the growing strategic dimension of the bilateral relationship.
  • Russia’s call for multi-polarity, multilateralism, and reforms in the UN Security Council are backed by India and Russia supports India’s candidature for a seat in the Security Council (UNSC) thus, helping India gain a stronger role in the international system.

Strategic Relations between India and Russia The major areas of engagement and strategic relations between the two nations are as follows-

  • Political Relations
    • Annual Bilateral Summit: Is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism in the strategic partnership between the two countries, for which the leaders of both Nations meet annually.
    • Two Inter-Governmental Commissions: One on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), and another on Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC- MTC), meet annually.
    • Indian Prime Minister and President of Russia in 2018 held their first informal Summit in the city of Sochi where the two leaders upgraded the traditionally close relationship to a “special privileged strategic partnership.”
  • Defense Relations
  • Indo-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved from a simple buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development, and production of advanced defense technologies and systems.
  • Both countries hold exchanges and training exercises between their armed forces annually.
  • The first-ever TriServices exercise – ‘INDRA 2017’ took place in Vladivostok in 2017. Joint India-Russia Air force exercise ‘Avia Indra’ took place in Lipetsk in 2018.
  • The Inter-Governmental Commission and its Working Groups and Sub-Groups review defense cooperation between the two countries.
  • Major Joint Military Programme:
    • BrahMos cruise missile program
    • 5th generation fighter jet program
    • Sukhoi Su-30MKI program (230+ to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics)
    • Ilyushin/HAL Tactical Transport Aircraft
    • KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters
  • India entered into a joint venture with Russia to manufacture the legendary Kalashnikov assault rifles in India.
  • In 2018, Russia sold the S-400 advanced air defense system to India.
  • Economic Relations
  • Intensifying the trade and economic relations has been identified as a priority by both the leaders.
  • The Russian Ministry of Economic Development launched ‘Single window Service’ in October 2018 to facilitate hassle-free investment by Indian companies which will help achieve mutual trade and investment targets.
  • Some of the key priority sectors identified for focused interaction include hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, mining, fertilizers, heavy engineering, gems & jewelry, chemicals, fertilizers, and the agriculture & food processing industry.
  • The overall investment target of USD 30 billion that was set for 2025 has already been reached. The investment target has been raised to USD 50bn by 2025 during the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit in October 2018.
  • In the recent annual summit held in September 2019, the two countries decided to widen their trade, investment, energy, and ICT partnership including a five-year roadmap for the hydrocarbon sector comprising joint development of oil and gas fields in Russia and India, including offshore fields.
  • Trading Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has been further proposed to eliminate barriers in mutual trade between India and Russia.
  • According to the International Energy Agency, India will cross Japan as the world’s third-largest oil user this year and is expected to have the highest rate of growth of crude demand globally through 2040.
    • A few years ago, Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft, invested $12.9 billion in India’s second-largest private oil refiner, Essar Oil, marking one of the biggest foreign investments in years.
    • ONGC Videsh Limited has substantive investments of over US$ 5 billion in two major oil and gas projects - Sakhalin-1 and Imperial Energy Limited (Tomsk).
  • Sibur and Reliance Industries entered into a joint venture, setting up the Reliance Sibur Elastomers Private Limited in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
    • Sibur has agreed to share proprietary butyl rubber technology, staff training and access to the complex equipment of polymerization reactors, which is unprecedented for a Russia company and marks a unique case of the partnership between the two countries.

Major Areas of Cooperation between India and Russia

  • Co-operation in the Energy Sector: Russia is an important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and 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 is an example of fruitful cooperation between India and Russia.
  • Space Co-operation: India-Russia cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of outer space dates back to about four decades.
    • A crucial MoU was signed between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Federal Space Agency of Russia 'ROSCOSMOS' on joint activities in the field of human spaceflight program, Gaganyaan.
    • India and Russia have both signed agreements for cooperation and the use of GLONASS.
    • India's first Satellite Aryabhata was launched into space with the cooperation of the Soviet Union.
  • Cooperation in the Field of Science and Technology: The ongoing collaboration in the field of science & technology, under the Integrated Long-Term Programme of Co-operation (ILTP), is the largest cooperation program in this sphere for both India and Russia.
    • In 2010, ILTP was extended for another 10 years with a renewed mandate "innovation-led technology program”.
    • India-Russia Science and Technology Centre with a branch each in Delhi-NCR and Moscow was set up in 2011-12 in order to promote the transfer of technologies and their commercialization.
    • India-Russia Bridge to Innovation, cooperation in telemedicine, creation of a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), GIAN, and the Russia-India Network (RIN) of Universities are being promoted to encourage the growth of bilateral interaction in the field of S&T.
  • Cultural Engagement: The people to people ties between the two nations have been growing that strengthening the cultural relations.
    • Yoga in Russia has been growing and becoming increasingly popular since the 1980s, particularly in major cities and urban centers.
    • The President of India inaugurated the Year of Indian Culture ‘Namaste Russia’ in Moscow on 10 May 2015.
    • A Joint Postage Stamp, with the theme “Folk Dance” was issued simultaneously in Delhi and Moscow in 2017.
    • Festival of India is being organized after a gap of 30 years, in the Russian Federation at the Kremlin Palace representing the different facets of the Indian culture. Indian film ‘Newton’ won the ‘Transform Nation’ film award during this festival.
    • Approximately 20 Russian Institutions, including leading universities and schools, regularly teach Hindi to about 1500 Russian students.
  • At the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit, an MoU was also signed between India's Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) and Russia's SIRIUS to further the Interaction between young people of India and Russia, especially schoolchildren.
  • Indian Community
  • Indian Community in the Russian Federation is estimated at about 30,710.
  • The majority of Indian businessmen/companies in Russia are involved in trading.
  • Some entities also represent Indian banks, pharmaceuticals, hydrocarbon, and engineering companies.
  • Embassy of India School in Moscow is affiliated to Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan in New Delhi with teachers deputed from India.

Significance of the Relationship

                           For Russia For India
  • A huge market to trade its goods to bypass western sanctions imposed.
  • India is a time-tested natural partner of Russia as compared to China. And soon Russia will find itself in competition with it as Beijing regards itself as the new G2 along with the US.
  • On other dimensions, India can assist to provide the multi-polarity that Russia fiercely seeks.
  • India can act as a bridge between JAI & RIC and thereby ensure convergence of thoughts, peace and global harmony. 
  • India can provide inexpensive skilled workers to the under/sparsely populated and aging Russia. 
  • Russia using the leverage of India can play a key role in the geopolitics & economic exploitation of the Indo-pacific region.
  • Russia's transfer of technology can boost the indigenous industry which is in the infant stage.
  • The country would profitable contribution in Make in India Initiatives.
  • The Russia-India-China alliance can be used by India and be creatively strengthened.
  • The good diplomatic relationship improves India’s bargaining power when it negotiates arms sales with the West.
  • Russian can prove to be a major market for Indian industries such as pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy Products, bovine meat, and frozen seafood.
  • Russia as a channel to influence the Taliban after a U.S. withdrawal could play to India’s favor on the Afghanistan factor.
  • Opportunity for India to diversify its energy sources away from an unstable West Asia.  

Russia-India-China (RIC) Forum RIC as a ‘diplomatic brand’ was born when three foreign ministers held the first trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2003. It was originally conceived by the former Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov. He pitched for a strategic triangle between Russia, India, and China.

Significance of the RIC: The forum is a significant one in the context of various geopolitical issues such as regional security, issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region, counter-terror efforts and coordination. The importance of the forum are as follows-

  • Common Vision for the World Order: Each is committed to the creation of a multi-polar world order based on respect for international law, multilateralism, and collective decision-making.
  • Economic Interests: RIC countries share a common interest in ensuring the continuance of economic globalization and are also committed to a process that seeks to reconcile regional demands for employment and resource allocation with the evolving pattern of global trade.
  • Considerable Weight in the UN: Two of the members are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the most powerful body with wider acceptance among the nations. Further, RIC could be a good platform for UNSC reforms which India is seeking.
  • Energy Cooperation: The potentials of cooperation between these three countries in the energy sector are really vast. While Russia is an energy-rich country, both India and China are energy-hungry countries.
  • Connectivity: There can be vast networks of transport and communication between the three countries by exploring the Silk Road through Afghanistan and Central Asia with links with these three countries.
  • Cooperation in other forums: Russia, India, and China are part of other regional and multilateral forums to which cooperation in RIC could pave the way for the cooperation of these countries in other forums. SCO and G-20 are such examples.

Strains in Indo-Russia Relationship

  • India’s growing relationships with the U.S - In 2016, India became a major defence partner of the US, it began the 2+2 dialogue (2018) and signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA,) as well as the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).
  • Russia’s growing relationships with China and Pakistan, and its contentious relationship with the U.S. - Russia overturned its decades-old policy and supplied China with advanced weapons systems including Sukhoi 35 and the S400 missile defence system.
    • It also engaged with Pakistan, much to the dismay of India, through the sale of Mi-35 helicopters and engines for JF-17 Thunder, and began joint military exercises.
  • Low & Stagnant Bilateral Trade - Russia’s imports from India have fallen drastically since the Soviet era and overall trade has stagnated at about $7 to $8 billion.

The challenge in front of India and Russia is that they need to transform the 20th-century partnership and make it fit for the 21st century. Global trends are evolving rapidly and major powers are re-defining their ties with each other to match their contemporary requirements.

Way-Forward Despite these strains, a strong India-Russia relationship is important because it gives extra maneuvering space for both countries vis-a-vis other actors.

  • India needs to rebuild on its strengths and common concerns with the Russians and also needs to deepen its scientific and technological relations with Russia since a base for this already exists.
  • Both India and Russia need to explore other avenues of cooperation, beyond defense technical cooperation to strengthen this relationship.
  • From the Indian perspective, there is scope for improvement in trade between Russia and India if the international North-South corridor through Iran and the Vladivostok-Chennai sea route can be operationalized.
  • India can benefit from hi-tech cooperation with Russia in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, outer space, and nanotechnology.

There is a broader scope for a “third” order, centered on Indo-Russian lines. The third order is reflective of the geopolitical realities in the region, based on a multi-polar, rules-based, mutually beneficial framework.

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