January 24, 2011
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev landed in New Delhi on December 21, trying to give a push to the bilateral ties between Russia and India. His visit marked the end of a series of high-profile visits to India by the top leadership of all the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
In the days before the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union, it was India’s closest ally with India having signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union way back in 1971. However after the demise of the Soviet Union, India lost interest in its successor-Russia and vice-versa. India’s foreign policy mandarins were at a loss after the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union since they had lost the bulwark they could always count on. This was also the period when India launched its economic liberalisation programme and the “Look-East” policy wherein it tried to reinvigorate its ties with the countries of East and Southeast Asia. During this period, India began to inch closer to the Americans, especially in the aftermath of its 1998 nuclear tests, starting with President Clinton’s visit in 2000.
It was Vladimir Putin’s India visit in the year 2000 that prevented Indo-Russian ties from going further downhill. During the visit, the two sides inked the landmark ‘Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Republic of India and the Russian Federation’ in October 2000. In the meantime many things have changed. India now has one of the fastest growing economies of the world and is reaping a demographic dividend. Meanwhile Russia’s huge energy reserves have given it geopolitical muscle.
The visit of President Medvedev to India started on the right note with India and Russia signing 30 agreements covering a wide range of areas ranging from defence, space, nuclear energy, pharmaceuticals, relaxation of visa norms among others. The two countries agreed to set a target of $20 billion for their bilateral trade by 2015, which is much lower than India’s current trade with many other countries, including China, which is projected to surpass $ 60 billion this year.
The highlight of Medvedev’s visit was the $295 million deal to jointly design and develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft(FGFA) between Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau and Rosoboronexport and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. As of now Russian-made aircrafts like the MiG’s and Sukhois form the mainstay of the Indian Air Force. Terrorism is another area of concern. Both India and Russia have been victims of terrorism.
Two Russian designed nuclear reactors are to go operational shortly at Kudankulam in India’s southern province of Tamil Nadu. However the proposal for Russian reactors to be set up at Haripur in India’s province of West Bengal has run into rough weather because of opposition from the local residents.
On the question of India’s membership of an expanded United Nations Security Council, Russia has offered its support to India, though it was not as unequivocal as countries like the US and France. Indeed, US President Barack Obama had set the ball rolling when in his address to the Indian Parliament he offered United States’ support to India’s candidature.
India in the recent years has recorded impressive levels of growth and is looking for energy resources worldwide. Russia can help India meet a part of this gargantuan demand. India’s state-owned ONGC(Oil and Natural Gas Commission) Videsh already has interests in Russia's Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project.
As India prepares to take on its role as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, where it was elected with 187 out of 191 countries voting in its favour, its role on the international stage will grow bigger. India will continue to grow closer to countries like the US, as it seems likely that India’s relations with China are not going to improve in the near future. During the recent visit of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India, China refused to address India’s core concerns, though he mollycoddled Pakistan which he visit later on the same trip.
India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. Russian firms need to take advantage of the huge Indian market, not only in defence, but in other areas too. There is already a great deal of goodwill for Russia and Russians because they have always stood by India in its times of need. Hence both India and Russia realize that they will need to go the extra mile to recreate the bonhomie which existed in the past between the two countries.