Indo-Russian friendship actually goes way beyond what is often termed as “all weather friendship”. Who can forget the Nixon-Kissinger sponsored USS Enterprise sabre rattling its tail in Bay of Bengal in 1971 while India dealt with the genocide unleashed by Tikka Khan in what was East Pakistan. And if that was not enough, a US naval armada sailing into the Arabian Sea, only to turn turtle when confronted by sudden surfacing of Russian submarines. The fact is that Russia has never hesitated to give us state-of-the-art technology whereas others have dithered; be it nuclear submarines, S-400 SAM system or fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), Israrel being an exception albeit the USA is opening up now. Then we have the stupendous Indo-Russian joint venture in the Brahmos – the best cruise missile in the world.
So when India and Russian signed 16 agreements during the recent visit by Prime Minister Modi to Russia, it actually meant bonding further the ‘privileged’ strategic partnership. The agreements spanned a vast canvas in fields of civil nuclear energy, defence, hydrocarbon, space and investments. Theses also included setting up of 12 Russia-built nuclear reactors in India and Russia endorsing India for a permanent seat at the UNSC. The Modi-Putin summit also emphasized the need for joint and concerted efforts and cooperation among countries in the region to address the challenge of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including the dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens and disrupting all financial and other support for terrorism. Not that the obdurate Pakistani army will stop promote terrorism in India and Afghanistan but then they could well take heed from Russia’s strong action against the ISIS despite cross currents in the Middle East including Turkey propped up indirectly by US and NATO.
Significantly, while PM Modi gave tacit support to Russian stand on Syrian crisis and offered condolences over the death of Russian citizens in a plane crash in Egypt and for the pilot of the Russian fighter downed by Turkey, examination of the black box of the downed Russian fighter has revealed the plane had not even entered Turkish airspace. Both Russia and India voiced strong support to sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, emphasizing that internal armed conflict in Syria cannot be solved by the use of force, but rather through political and diplomatic means.
While addressing the joint press conference, PM Modi made the following points: Russia is a significant partner in India’s economic transformation and in shaping a balanced, multi-polar world; both countries are moving towards expanding, expressing confidence there would be an increase in trade and investment, appreciation for the strong India-Russia partnership in defence, diplomacy and development – agreement on manufacture of Kamov 226 helicopter in India being first major defence platform under ‘Make in India’ mission’; pace of cooperation in nuclear energy is increasing between both countries – progressing on 12 Russian nuclear reactors at two sites with localization of manufacturing in India of Russian-designed nuclear reactor units; world must unite and combat terror without distinguishing between terror groups and target countries – both India and Russia “are one in our belief that world must unite against terrorism, and; necessity for a dialogue for an early political settlement in West Asia.
Putin said Unit-II of Kudankulam atomic plant in Tamil Nadu, being built by Russia, will be commissioned within weeks and negotiations were at advanced staged for Unit III and IV. In the atomic field, the two sides signed a significant agreement for “Localization of Manufacturing in India for Russian-Designed Nuclear Reactor Units” to enable participation of Indian firms under the ‘Make-in-India’ program. Other agreements signed also other sectors like railways, solar energy, space, heavy engineering, hydrocarbons, customs and ease of travel. Progress on a number of other defence proposals has been made to boost defence manufacturing in India and India’s defence readiness with next generation equipment.
PM Modi and President Putin also addressed top business leaders of the two countries saying private sector is also being encouraged to connect with each other more. 19 Indian CEOs had accompanied PM Modi to Russia while 34 business leaders from various Russian companies participated in the meeting. The Joint Statement said the two countries vowed to increase annual bilateral trade and investment and emphasized the need for continued facilitation by both the governments as well as speedy implementation of decisions and liberalization of relevant rules and regulations. An agreement reached on liberalization of the travel regime for businessmen of both the countries and called for its effective implementation. Referring to hydrocarbons, Modi said Russia, one of the world’s largest reserves, can be a critical source of energy security for India, especially because of the strategic partnership.
The two sides expressed commitment to realize the target of US$ 30 billion in 10 years set at the last Annual Summit, up from US$ 10 billion, with PM Modi saying “we are moving forward on the India-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement”. President Putin said that high technology, innovation, energy, aircraft building, pharmaceuticals and diamonds are promising areas for Indo-Russian cooperation. PM Modi also visited Russia’s National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC) which provide inter-agency coordination and alert public about threats and emergency situations, which may help restart the discussion of the much needed NCTC in India.
On his way back from Russia, PM Modi visited Kabul to inaugurate the new Afghan Parliament building constructed by India. Simultaneously, India has gifted 4 x Mi 35 attack helicopter to Afghanistan; funded by India and supplied by Russia. This by itself signals Indo-Russian cooperation in counter terrorism, particularly against Pakistani proxy war. The reality of the emerging geopolitical environment is that while China views itself as the new G2 grouped with US, the Indo-Russian ‘privileged’ strategic partnership can provide the required multi-polarity.
Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.