Cordial relations with Russia have for decades been integral to India’s foreign policy. A unique political consensus endorses it in both countries, straddling party divides. With neither country perceiving a security threat from the other, India-Russia ties have long witnessed close cooperation in strategic fields like defence, oil and gas, nuclear energy, space, and science and technology.
An elaborate mechanism for regular, multi-tiered bilateral exchanges nurtures our relations. As part of it, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla is visiting Moscow on February 17-18 for foreign office consultations. He would review bilateral ties with deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov and finalise a high-level interaction calendar that would peak with Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcoming President Vladimir Putin, with whom he shares an excellent personal rapport, to India for the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit in the first half of 2021.
Preparations for that summit would include deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov’s visit to India early this year for the Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) on Trade, Economic, S&T and Cultural Cooperation. While India-Russia bilateral trade remains modest, several measures to boost it are at an advanced stage. An India-Russia Green Corridor will be established soon. The multi-modal International North-South Transportation Corridor is being operationalised and would reduce transit time and costs for containers to get from Mumbai via Iran to Russia and onwards to Central Asia or Western Europe. Negotiations on an India-Eurasian Economic Union FTA are to be completed shortly.
With the original India-Russia cumulative investment target of $30 billion by 2025 already being exceeded, the performance snapshot of our trade and economic cooperation changes radically when two-way investment is taken into account.
Energy has consolidated as a major pillar of our bilateral cooperation. India’s cumulative oil and gas investment in Russia exceeds $15 billion and the most oil India annually extracts from its oil and gas investments abroad is from Russia. With Rosneft and its partners purchasing Essar Oil, renamed Nayara Energy, for $12.9 billion in 2017, Russian investments in India exceed $18 billion. Nayara Energy operates India’s second largest single-site oil refinery at Vadinar and is investing $850 million on a new petrochemicals plant nearby. Meanwhile, GAZPROM commenced LNG deliveries to
in mid-2018 that are contracted to continue for another two decades, with an estimated cumulative value of $25 billion. An ‘India Energy Centre’ will open in Moscow next month.
Despite Covid-19, work on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project has continued apace. Manufacture of nuclear power equipment is being increasingly localised in India for our 1,000 MW units as well as the Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh.
Russia’s support for India’s space programme is reflected in its training four crew members over the past year, and more recently two Indian doctors, for India’s Gaganyaan space mission.
As preparation for the annual summit, defence minister Sergey Shoigu would visit India in early 2021 for the IGC on Military and Military-Technical Cooperation. It would review the timely delivery to India of five S-400 air defence systems, the purchase/construction of four stealth frigates, besides progress in implementing projects to make AK-203 rifles and Ka-226 light utility helicopters in India. A long-term Military-Technical Cooperation Program for 2021-30 would be finalised as also an IGA on supply of defence spares to address product support concerns.
In Moscow, Shringla would discuss topical international issues — these acquire additional salience with India being on the UN Security Council. In a few instances where views may not entirely coincide, both sides are expected to coordinate positions. The visit will also afford an opportunity to exchange views on issues such as those relating to Afghanistan, Iran, terrorism and counter-terrorism, the regional security situation, cyber-space and India’s BRICS chairmanship.
Cooperation in mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic would also be touched upon. During its peak, India ensured hydroxychloroquine supplies to over 25 regional administrations and 60 Russian hospitals. Russia plans to produce a billion Sputnik-V doses, a significant proportion of it in India, with Indian partners.
A new initiative is a Track-II dialogue on India-Japan-Russia Trilateral Cooperation in the Russian Far East, convened virtually on 20 January 2021. It has agreed on promoting the trilateral framework to harness economic opportunities in the Russian Far East in fourteen identified areas. Given the interconnected nature of regional development alongside the Russian Far East, it would also explore the potential for trilateral partnership in sustainably developing the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route. The feasibility of reviving the Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor linking the Russian Far East and India’s east coast would also benefit from trilateral consideration, with container ships touching a different Japanese port in both directions.
Finally, Shringla can be expected in Moscow to encourage Russia to join the ‘Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure’ announced by PM Modi in September 2019. An India-Japan-Russia approach to promoting the disaster resilience of new and existing infrastructure in the Russian Far East may also have merit.
The writer is a former Indian ambassador to Russia. Views are personal.