Time-tested Friendship

Indo-Russia bilateral relationship has stood the test of time

Palak Gupta

Russia has been a time-tested friend of India. The two countries had signed ‘Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership’ during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2000 which was elevated to the level of a ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ in December 2010. India is the only country with which Russia maintains relations at this level.

Goa Hosts Naval Phases of Indo-Russian Exercise INDRA-2019

The bilateral gamut of Indo-Russia ties covers an enormous scope of defence, energy security, civil, nuclear and space cooperation. The two countries also engage on several multilateral platforms including G20, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which India became a part of on 9 June 2017.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly supported India’s bid for permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and has also been a steady supporter of India’s candidature and membership for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Russia is the chair of SCO for 2019-20 and it is also the chair of BRICS for 2020. Moscow last chaired the BRICS in 2015.

On April 28, at the initiative of Russia, a special BRICS Foreign Ministers’ videoconference took place under the chairmanship of Sergey Lavrov on the impact of Covid-19 on international relations.

On 23 December 2019, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during the Government Hour at the Federation Council in Moscow said, ‘Our privileged strategic partnership with India is advancing. Our ties with the overwhelming majority of other Asia-Pacific partners are deepening,’ adding, ‘there is also the RIC format of Russia, India and China, which remains effective and which had given rise to BRICS some time ago.’

During the Soviet era, Soviets were the main suppliers of arms to India and economically supported the country until its dissolution. After the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, Russia inherited these close ties and still continues to be the top arms importer for India. Currently, New Delhi is acquiring and procuring a wide range of weapons and military equipment from Moscow.

Defence cooperation is guided by the Programme for Military Technical Cooperation signed between the two countries. It is valid till end-2020. A slew of bilateral projects is underway which include indigenous production of T-90 tanks and Su-30-MKI aircraft, supply of MiG-29-K aircraft and Kamov-31 and Mi-17 helicopters, upgrade of MiG-29 aircraft and supply of Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher Smerch. India will soon sign a contract with Russia to procure Ka-226T, and it is all set to receive the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system from Moscow.

The two sides are committed to upgrade their defence cooperation, including by fostering joint development and production of military equipment, components and spare parts, improve the after-sales service system and continue holding regular joint exercises of the armed forces of the two countries.

Keeping in line with the Indian government’s flagship ‘Make in India’ initiative, the two countries encourage joint manufacturing of spare parts, components, aggregates and other products for maintenance of Russian origin arms and defence equipment through transfer of technology and setting up of joint ventures in India.

The two countries are committed to enhance military to military cooperation through military political dialogues, joint military exercises, staff-talks, and training in each other’s military institutions.

Second joint Tri-Services Exercises INDRA-2019 was carried out in India from 10-19 December 2019 simultaneously at Babina (near Jhansi), Pune, and Goa. The INDRA series of exercise began in 2003 and the first joint Tri Services Exercise was conducted in 2017.

Within the framework of the SCO, the Indian Army for the first time in August 2018, sent a 200-member contingent to Russia to participate in the multilateral exercises ‘Peaceful Mission’.

India and Russia are also working on exploring the prospects of establishing joint ventures for the development and production of civil aircraft.

In addition to this, civil nuclear cooperation between India and Russia is an important component of their bilateral strategic partnership.

‘The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is the flagship project of our peaceful atomic cooperation. We are working to develop energy cooperation in a trilateral format, following the example of the Rooppur nuclear power plant project in Bangladesh,’ Lavrov had said in an interview to an Indian daily published on 15 January 2020. With the current installed capacity of 2GW, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is the largest nuclear power station in India, situated in Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. Developed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), it is country’s first nuclear plant to use imported pressurised water reactor (PWR) based on imported (in this case Russian) technology. The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant will comprise six VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor (PWR) units of Russian design for a combined capacity of 6GW. A subsidiary of the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation (Rosatom), Atomstroyexport, is responsible for the technical design, equipment supply, construction supervision, reactor commissioning, as well as training for operation and maintenance of the reactor units at Kudankulam. According to Atomstroyexport, the reactor plant is in double containment which prevents radioactivity emission in the environment, and ‘protects the reactor plant from natural and man-made external impacts such as an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, blast wave, airplane crash, etc.’

The two countries are also cooperating in the Rooppur Nuclear Plant in Bangladesh. On 5 October 2018 the two countries signed a pact to further enhance cooperation in the area of nuclear energy.

Indian and Russian cooperation in the energy sector has a broader scope owing to New Delhi being the third largest consumer of energy in the world and Russia being one of the key producers of hydrocarbons. Russia is rich in oil and gas reserves hence; the country is crucial for India’s energy security as it imports 80 per cent of its crude oil and 18 per cent of its natural gas. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is the only viable mode of importing natural gas for India.

Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) announced on 12 November 2019 that it was in the process of negotiating with Russian state oil firm Rosneft to increase oil purchases and expand investments in Russian oil refining projects. Indian companies have reportedly invested more than USD10 billion in major Russian oil projects such as Sakhalin-1, Vankorneft and Taas-Yuryakh. ONGC Videsh Ltd has a 20 per cent stake in Sakhalin-I. The Sakhalin-I project, a sister project of Sakhalin-II, is a consortium for production of oil and gas on Sakhalin Island. It operates three fields in the Okhotsk Sea: Chayvo, Odoptu and Arkutun-Dagi. ONGC and Rosneft signed an MoU in May 2014 for bilateral cooperation in subsurface surveys, exploration, appraisal and hydrocarbons production in the offshore Arctic region of Russia. India has also expressed interest in participating in the multibillion dollar Arctic LNG-2 and Arctic LNG-3 projects.

Air Force Phase of Indo-Russian Exercise Indra-2019

If the energy cooperation between the two countries deepens, then India is likely to become the first non‑Arctic state extracting resources in the Arctic.

In the same interview dated 15 January 2020, the Russian foreign minister said: ‘We are establishing cooperation in geological exploration, joint development of oil and gas fields in the territory of the two countries, including offshore projects, which will eventually allow India to become the first non‑Arctic state extracting resources in the Arctic.’ According to sources, New Delhi is ready to play a “significant” role in the Arctic Council, the eight-member grouping of nations that have territories in the Arctic.

In May 2019, India was re-elected as Observer of the Arctic Council, as announced by the secretary to the Union ministry of earth sciences Madhavan Rajeevan. Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Demark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland are part of the Arctic Council.

In September 2019, India announced a support of USD 1 billion line of credit as it launched its Act Far East Policy for Russia to develop the country’s resource-rich, Far East region. ‘Several Indian companies have been successfully set up in the Far East region, such as M/s KGK in Vladivostok in the field of diamond cutting and M/s Tata Power in Krutogorovo in Kamchatka in coal mining,’ stated the India-Russia joint statement made during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in September. The two countries, in the area of trade of rough diamonds, are naturally complementary as Russia is a major producer of rough diamonds and India is the leading processing centre.

The two sides extensively cooperate in counter-terrorism domain as well.

In October 2019, the 11th meeting of the India-Russia Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism was held in New Delhi. The two sides exchanged views on threats posed by terrorist entities globally and in their respective regions as well as focused on the present concerns on terrorism in the South Asia region. In the press statement issued, the two sides stressed the “need for elimination, once and for all, of all ‘safe havens’ of terrorists.”

New Delhi and Moscow underscored their efforts on ‘some of the world’s most pressing’ counter terrorism challenges including countering radicalisation and extremism, misuse of internet for terrorist purposes, movement of foreign fighters and combating financing of terrorism including drug trafficking, the joint statement added. The next meeting of the Working Group will be held in Russia.

Two months later on 12 December 2019, a joint anti-terrorist exercise Xiamen-2019 was held in China on identification and combating the use of the Internet (including social media and instant messengers) for terrorist, separatist and extremist purposes with the coordination of the SCO RATS Executive Committee. The participating countries included India, Kazakhstan, China, the Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

India and Russia intend to ratchet-up the effectiveness of countering terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, cross-border organised crime, and information security threats, in particular by improving the functionality of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.

Another domain where the two countries have been cooperating is space. This is one of the key pillars of the strategic relationship between the two countries. The first man to travel to space was a Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. ‘I think that sometime Soviet and Indian cosmonauts will research unexplored expanses of space together,’ Gagarin had then said at a meeting in Delhi. He had spent eight days in India when he visited here nearly seven months after his space odyssey. Cooperation and collaboration between the former USSR and India in the area of space has been taking place from as far back as 1962. The USSR was one of the three countries that helped India in setting up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS).

From then to now, both the countries have come a long way. There is an enhanced cooperation between the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), including the human spaceflight programmes and satellite navigation. Currently, Russia is training four Indian prospective astronauts for the country’s first national manned space mission Gaganyaan at a facility near Moscow. In the wake of the present pandemic that has brought the world under forced lockdown, their training will resume only after 30 April 2020, Russian news agency TASS reported quoting Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos in charge of international projects.

Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev in a recent interview to DD India said, ‘The bilateral ties between India and Russia are stronger than the coronavirus.’

The scientific cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi led to the conclusion of a Protocol on Protection and Usage of Intellectual Property in December 2002.

There is a plethora of mechanisms through which the scientific cooperation between the two nations is facilitated. These are mainly: Indo-Russian Working Group on Science and Technology, Integrated Long Term Programme (ILTP) of Cooperation in Science and Technology, Basic Science Cooperation programme, Inter-Academy Exchange Programme, Indo-Russian S&T Centre and Inter-Ministerial Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation. Department of Science & Technology, India and Ministry of Economic Development, Russia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation in the field of innovation.

The two countries underscore the significance of joint research in science and technology and are committed to intensify development of high-tech products in spheres such as telecommunications, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnologies, pharmacy and others.

The political ties between Moscow and New Delhi are also gaining a continuous momentum. The annual summit meeting between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalised dialogue mechanism in the strategic partnership between India and Russia. So far 20 annual summit meetings have taken place alternatively in India and Russia.

Additionally, the two countries regularly hold inter-parliamentary meetings and negotiations between representatives of security councils, foreign affairs agencies.

The leadership of India and Russia are also teaming up to broaden the scope of the bilateral ties on trade fronts. In light of further enhancing the trade and economic cooperation the two sides reiterated the commitment to increase the bilateral trade to USD30 billion by 2025 and the bilateral investment each way to USD15 billion by 2025.

A number of mechanisms exist at governmental and non-governmental levels to further the economic cooperation. India Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) dictates the conduct of economic cooperation at the governmental level.

Direct B2B interactions between the two countries are implemented through Indo-Russian Forum for Trade & Investment and the India-Russia CEO’s Council.

On 10 July 2019, New Delhi hosted the Second India-Russia Strategic Economic Dialogue (IRSED) on six core areas of cooperation, namely, Development of Transport Infrastructure and Technologies; Development of Agriculture and Agro-Processing sector; Small and Medium Business support; Digital Transformation and Frontier Technologies; Cooperation in Trade, Banking, Finance, and Industry; and Tourism & Connectivity.

The IRSED was established following a bilateral MoU signed between NITI Aayog and the ministry of economic development of the Russian Federation on 5 October 2018 in New Delhi. Subsequently, the first India-Russia Strategic Economic Dialogue was held in St. Petersburg in November 2018.

The aforementioned mechanisms are in place to aid in the economic development and with the similar objective and goals, New Delhi and Moscow intend to work on improving the transport infrastructure.

The two countries stress on the development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The major thrust in the INSTC is to secure freight volumes, upgrade and improve the transport and logistics services provided, simplify document workflow and switch to electronic document workflow, introduce digital technologies and satellite navigation into the transportation process.


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