Q 1. Your visit to Russia, and meetings and negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin are taking place on the eve of the Year of Russia in India. What significance do you attach to this major event in bilateral relations? What role will the mass media of the two countries play in covering the Year’s events?
Ans: The ‘Year of Russia’ in India will be inaugurated in 2008 after my visit to Moscow. In January 2007, it was in President Putin’s and my presence that the Protocol on holding the ‘Year of Russia’ in India in 2008 and the ‘Year of India’ in Russia in 2009 was signed in New Delhi. The co-Chairs of the respective Organizing Committees - Dr. Karan Singh, the president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and Mr. Alexander Zhukov, a Russian deputy prime minister - met in early October 2007 in Moscow and finalized the contours of the program for the Year of Russia in India in 2008.
The Year of Russia and India is an important joint effort to further strengthen the understanding and bonds of friendship at the people-to-people level. The events will encompass diverse fields of human endeavor, including art and culture, science and technology, and economy and industry. Exhibitions, trade fairs, industry and media interactions, scientific exhibitions, seminars, books fairs, film festivals, and fashion and food events will form part of the Year of Russia in India, involving federal and regional governments on both sides.
The mass media has a critical role in publicizing the events. The mass media should in fact become part of the festivities. It should contribute to overcoming all barriers of language.
Q 2. What do you think of the political and strategic cooperation between Russia and India at present and in the future?
Ans. India and Russia have enjoyed close ties of friendship and partnership over the last sixty years. Russia occupies a special and unique place in India’s foreign relations. Our time-tested relationship is based on deep mutual trust and understanding.
Today India and Russia are strategic partners. Our geo-political interests have always had much in common. We have intensive contacts at all levels, not least through the mechanism of annual summit-level exchanges institutionalized by President Putin during his first visit to India in 2000. I am grateful to President Putin for his strong personal commitment to Indo-Russian relations.
India and Russia present a unique example of two large states with a strong interest in a peaceful, secure and prosperous world order and high stakes in the orderly of the functioning international system. Our shared world view, which envisages a strong role for the United Nations, could help foster closer political relations and cooperation in multilateral forums.
I am very optimistic about the future of our strategic partnership with Russia.
Q 3 What do you think stands in the way of the growth of Indian exports to Russia, and what prevents a diversification of bilateral trade in general? What steps do you expect from your Russian partners?
Ans. The volume of our two-way bilateral trade is still far below its true potential. Currently, India’s exports to Russia are around US$ 1 billion, which is less than 1% of India’s overall exports and Indian imports from Russia are about 1.2 % of Russia’s total exports. Relatively high transportation costs and inadequate exchanges between Indian and Russian businessmen are some of the reasons for these low trade volumes.
Diversification of trade to high value items such as gems and jewellery could offset the transportation cost disadvantage. Rationalization of tariff lines, setting up of joint ventures and greater information exchange would also contribute to enhancing trade. Additionally, there is potential for investment in sectors such as machinery, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, agricultural and food products. A greater involvement of the private sector is essential to expanding bilateral trade. Quality standards and certification requirements need to be mutually agreed upon.
The two governments set up a Joint Study Group in 2006 to examine measures to boost bilateral trade to US$ 10 billion by 2010 and to study the feasibility of signing a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. The report of the Joint Study Group has been submitted, and is in the process of examination by our governments.
I look forward to discussing these issues with President Putin.
Q 4 India welcomes foreign investment, but Russian investment in the Indian economy is clearly insufficient. What is the reason for this and how can it be remedied?
Ans: India and Russia are two of the fastest growing economies in the world. Both countries have been attracting significant Foreign Direct Investments.
One of the reasons for the currently limited investments seems to be the lack of information and awareness among the business communities on both sides. We set up the India-Russia Forum on Trade and Investment last year for business-to-business interaction. The first meeting of this Forum was held in February, 2007 in India with the participation of over 500 businessmen from both countries. The next meeting of the Forum is scheduled for February 2008 in India. Our banks and financial institutions are now meeting regularly and more banks are seeking to establish correspondent relations. This should contribute to facilitating investments between our two countries.
Q 5 India actively cooperates with many countries in the military-technical sphere. What is Russia’s role in this cooperation and what needs to be done by Russia to further strengthen bilateral strategic ties?
Ans. Russia is India’s most important partner in defense cooperation. Russia is the only country with which we have a formal mechanism of an Inter-Governmental Commission for military-technical cooperation, which meets annually under the chairmanship of the two defense ministers.
Defense cooperation is an integral element of our strategic partnership. Many defense contracts are at various stages of implementation. Joint research, development and production of defense equipment will continue to play an important role in strengthening India’s strategic partnership with Russia.
An inter-governmental agreement for cooperation in the production and development of fifth generation multi-functional fighter aircraft has been recently signed. I am sure that bilateral collaboration in the field of military technical cooperation will continue to grow in the future.
Q 6 What is the significance of, and what are the prospects for, alternative energy sources and nuclear power in guaranteeing the country’s energy independence and meeting the needs of a growing economy? In view of the positive experience in developing the Sakhalin I deposit, how do you see the development of cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi in the search for and joint development of hydrocarbon fuel reserves?
Ans. With its immense proven reserves of oil and gas, Russia is bound to play a critical role in global energy security in the years ahead. India is currently the fourth largest importer of oil and gas in the world. With India growing at over 8-9 per cent per annum, our energy requirements are increasing rapidly. President Putin has defined energy security as not just security of supply but also security of demand. India can be a major guarantor for energy demand.
Indian and Russian oil and gas companies are engaged in discussions to expand their cooperation beyond the Sakhalin-1 project. At the same time, India is seeking to attract international oil companies to bid for exploration blocs and Russian oil and gas companies are active in India.
Enhancing power generation capacity is an extremely important objective for India. India needs energy from all sources, including renewable and nuclear energy. We have plans to produce 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020. International civil nuclear energy cooperation will enable us to augment our nuclear energy production. We are grateful for Russia’s ongoing partnership in the construction of nuclear power units in India. During President Putin’s visit to India in January 2007, we issued a joint statement on cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of atomic energy.
Q 7 What in your opinion are the prospects for cooperation in such areas as science, high technologies, nanotechnology, and space?
Ans. Without doubt, there are excellent prospects. India already has extensive cooperation with Russia in the field of science and technology under the umbrella of the Integrated Long Term Program. This program has been in operation for 20 years, and has many achievements. The setting up of seven Joint Centers of Excellence is one example. Marketing of technologies is an important focus area for both our countries. We are planning to set up a Joint Technology Centre. Nanotechnology and bio-technology are two potential areas of special significance for future cooperation.
Our cooperation in the space sector dates back to the launch of the Indian satellite ‘Aryabhatta’ in April 1975. Indian and Russian space agencies are cooperating in the joint development and use of the Russian satellite navigation system GLONASS, in a joint satellite project involving university students from both sides called YOUTHSAT, and through Indian participation in the Coronas Photon scientific mission. I am particularly excited about our joint mission for lunar exploration.
Q 8. Where do you see Russian-Indian relations in, say, 15 years’ time?
Ans. Indo-Russian relations will grow to great heights. The evolution of our relations will be based on the solid foundation of the last sixty years. I see a continuing convergence and similarity of our world views on major international issues. We have a shared destiny, and a common neighborhood where we seek to build an atmosphere of peace, stability and cooperation. India and Russia will continue to work together to shape an equitable international order which reflects contemporary realities.
I also see much more collaboration to exploit our mutual strengths and complementarities. The rapid growth of our economies will create new opportunities for mutual cooperation, particularly in the area of energy security. Apart from this, the traditional pillars of our strategic partnership can be expected to see a further deepening.