Indo-Russian ties: Stand by trusted friend
India and Russia are natural allies, despite whatever is happening across the globe. Though not being an immediate neighbour, Russia is an...
India and Russia are natural allies, despite whatever is happening across the globe. Though not being an immediate neighbour, Russia is an indispensable and time-tested friend. The erstwhile Soviet Union was sympathetic towards India's struggle for independence. After Independence right from the Nehru era till today, the friendship between India and Russia passed through several trials. In the days of the cold war, when India opted for the non-aligned movement (NAM), the friendship between the two countries did not enter a bitter phase. Contrary there were pressure tactics from the Western bloc on India on various issues.
The most significant example of the erstwhile Soviet Union extending support to India in the time of need was in 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Its support was crucial at that time. The US had sent its Seventh Fleet to the Indian Ocean and China was preparing to intervene -- both were trying to counter India's move in liberating Bangladesh. The erstwhile Soviet Union deployed its forces at its borders to caution Beijing. Further it supported India's position both at the United Nations and UN Security Council.
Even after, the end of cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to be India’s important ally. In today’s era of multi-polarity in geopolitics, the two cannot choose any other as better friends. Both the countries have their natural compulsions in the contemporary situation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly mentioned in a recent meeting that every child in India knows that our closest friend is Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s visit must only reconfirm it.
Some people in this country are much perturbed over Russia entering into a military pact with our neighbour-adversary, Pakistan for the first time to exchange of views and information on politico-military issues as well as issues related to strengthening of mutual trust and international security. Russia had been a long-time supplier of defence platforms to India. Even today 60 per cent to 70 per cent of our defence platforms are from Russia. It is the first country to come for co-production and co-development of defence products with India.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia may have lost some of its defence capability to its erstwhile Soviet members, but still the technology it has in its possession is quite needed for India. Whose technology is superior or more updated and sophisticated - whether the US or Russia - is not the moot issue. No country will be prepared to part with its recent technology. What matters is the trust and confidence and overall friendship in the time of need.
Today, the US has replaced Russia as the top supplier of defence products to India. It has also promised co-production and co-development with New Delhi and has assured to implement Modi government’s ‘Make in India’ ambitious programme. It is the right of India to have a choice of technologies in building up its defence preparedness.
Similarly, it is the case with Pakistan when it seeks to ink a defence pact with Russia. Here at this point, Russia needs to answer the critics of India-Russia friendship that its relationship with Islamabad would not come in the way of its long lasting and trusted friendship with New Delhi.
Russia today is a pariah after annexing Crimea. Western powers have accused it of continuing to support the separatist rebels in the eastern Ukraine and have also alleged Russia's involvement in shooting down of the Malaysian airliner MH 17 killing 298 people on board while flying over the rebel-held area. President Putin had to face uncomfortable situation from leaders of the US, Canada, Japan and UK at the recent G20 Summit in Brisbane and as a result he had to leave before the G20 Leaders’ Communique was released and US President Obama and European leaders opened their talks on Ukraine.
It is now the right time for New Delhi to reciprocate its friendship with Russia. India stands to gain strategically in this situation in many ways by deepening its relations with Russia and is therefore, right in saying categorically that it cannot be party to any sanctions against its friend. India is Russia's partner in BRICS, RIC, G20 and other global fora and Russia supports India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and membership of SCO.
But it is unfortunate that Prime Minister Modi could not give much time to President Vladimir Putin at the margins of BRICS Summit at Fortaleza as he devoted most of his spare time discussing with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. He, however, met the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, but had no structured meeting with Putin at the sidelines of G20 Summit.
India and Russia, being strategic partners, have multi-layered mechanism for bilateral interaction, one of the largest with any country in the world, that meets at Summit level annually, since 2000. The other key institutional mechanisms are Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation, co-chaired by two defence ministers, Inter-governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation co-chaired by Indian external affairs minister and Russian deputy prime minister, India-Russia Trade & Investment Forum co-chaired by Indian commerce minister and Russian economic development minister. Both India and Russia are determined to take this relationship to qualitatively new levels with a joint vision for the next decade.
Apart from several ongoing defence cooperation deals, the first stage of co-designing of the 5th generation fighter aircraft is completed. India and Russia are engaged in cooperation in space technology and India is interested in use of Russian receivers for satellite signals. On energy cooperation, Kudankulam nuclear power project stands out as the best example. India is interested in supply of gas through pipeline from Russia and acquiring more hydrocarbon projects in Russia.
Further, as Eurasian Free Trade Area is likely to take shape, New Delhi is interested in boosting the bilateral trade to beyond the existing $10 billion. It is also pressing for a North-South Transport Corridor via Iran. On the trade side, India benefits much from the import of rough diamonds from Russia and processing it for exports. India would stand to benefit from further agreements on defence, nuclear energy, customs, banking and energy cooperation. It awaits a new strategic elevation.
By: Ashok B Sharma