Ambassador Kudashev spoke of issues pertaining to trade barriers by some countries, Russian-Indian bilateral ties, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia as chief guest of the Eastern Economic Forum next month.
Sputnik: Indo-Russian relations have a robust foundation – defence, space and interestingly enough culture, despite both nations geographically being on either side of Asia; be it Hindi cinema or Indian and Russian books inspiring a whole generation. Do you think Indians and Russians share the same bond?
Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev: Russia-India ties have their origin in the 15th century when Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin travelled to India and left an extensive diary of his trip known as the Journey Beyond Three Seas.
Official diplomatic relations were established in April 1947, even before India formally gained its independence. Since then, the two countries have been standing shoulder to shoulder, supporting each other and enhancing mutual trust. In 2000, this decades-long friendship was cemented by the Declaration on Strategic Partnership. Later, in 2010, our relations acquired the status of the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.
As you can see, our harmonious relations have remained solid long enough to sustain dynamic bilateral cooperation in the new millennium. For this, we have to pay homage to the visionaries, who conceptualised this historic relationship. Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore, who visited the USSR in 1927 and 1930, helped to project our country as India’s developmental inspiration.
Leaders, diplomats, and experts in both our countries carried this vision further, not merely in the political and economic sphere, but also in the cultural sphere. Starting from the mid-1950s, we have had a regular exchange of delegations of poets, artists, writers, dancers, and film workers. Indian classics, which had received attention even before 1917, were translated into the numerous languages of the USSR, and published not in the thousands, but in the tens of thousands.
The epic Ramayana was condensed into a play and over many decades continues to be staged, while Shakuntala was turned into a ballet. Today, Russia continues to display a lot of interest in Indian culture: Days of India in Russia, and International Yoga Day are highly popular, so are the concerts of Indian musicians. Two-year programmes of cultural exchanges between Russia and India ensure that our cultural bonds are consistently strengthening.
The publication of Russian classics in English and Indian languages was an interesting humanitarian event supported by the Soviet Union. India was one of the major beneficiaries of this initiative. The education of many people was enriched with this source of knowledge. Today, we are happy to see that there are clubs uniting old Soviet book lovers appearing all over India. Their members intend to introduce their children to the high values propagated by the great writers of the past. We are looking for ways to revive the publication of Russian literature in India and hope that Indian publishing houses will make their contribution well.
Another important initiative in this regard is the promotion of the Russian language and the support of Russian studies in India. From our side, with the constant support of the Russian government, we share school books and training materials, professional literature, encourage bilateral professor and student exchanges.
In November 2019, Delhi and Mumbai will host the Days of Moscow festival. Concerts, exhibitions, and sports competitions will be organised. We aspire to have such events on a regular basis as a mean of sustaining and strengthening the existing cultural bonds between the peoples of Russia and India.
Sputnik: Indo-Russian relations received an impetus in political relations after Narendra Modi took office as prime minister in 2014. Still the level of trade between the two countries is low. Do you foresee a change towards increased trade in the coming years?
Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev:You have rightly mentioned our political dialogue enjoys very good dynamics. Therefore, there is good will from both sides to reinforce relations with a solid and diverse economic component. President Putin and Prime Minister Modi have set a target of $30 billion in bilateral trade and $15 billion in investments both ways to be achieved by 2025.
While the level of mutual investments has reached the required mark and gone further, there is a lot to be done in trade. Although the trend is inspiring, for example, in 2018 the trade volume grew by 17.3% or, $10.98 billion.
Last year, we introduced a new mechanism to identify and subsequently remove existing barriers and impediments in mutual trade and investments.
It is important to overcome one major impediment to bilateral trade that is the lack of connectivity. In this respect, a solution may lie in the speedy operationalisation of the International North-South Transport Corridor, which would allow the infrastructural gap between our countries to be bridged. It would also be instrumental in interconnecting a large part of the Eurasian expanse.
Another promising project is the revival of the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor, which once functional, would cut the time to transport goods in half.
There are also great expectations originating from the progress in current endeavours to conclude the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the Eurasian Economic Union.
Russia and India enjoy close cooperation and coordination within various UN bodies, the G20, WTO, BRICS, the SCO, and other multilateral mechanisms.
Jointly, we oppose geopolitically motivated unilateral actions, which violate the UN Charter, and illegal economic sanctions that impose impediments to trade and financial transactions as well as instability, mistrust and unpredictability in the global affairs as a whole.
Sputnik: India has taken the decision to go ahead with the S-400 deal, unmindful of looming US sanctions. Do you see defence cooperation between the two countries reaching a new level?
Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev:Historically, Russia has always been a trusted and reliable Indian partner in military and military-technical cooperation – a backbone of our Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.
We rank first in the field of military-technical cooperation between India and foreign countries, acquiring more than a 60% share of military and technical equipment, including the procurement of spare parts and components for the licenced production of weapons and military equipment on the Indian market.
The S-400 complex is unparalleled and goes beyond any competition, so geopolitically and militarily, it is a long-term investment in national defence and security of India and that of the South Asian region at large. It will be a powerful component in enhancing India’s clout as an emerging global power.
We do believe that a strong India is a vital factor in regional and global stability. Our strategic priorities coincide. That’s what makes our mutual interests immune to unlawful unilateral sanctions used by some countries as a means of dirty competition.
It is indeed a matter of pride today we have successfully converted our defence ties from a "cash and carry" mode into joint long-term programmes of R&D and production cooperation, transfer of unique technologies and licenses for the sophisticated state-of-the-art military equipment.
We also enjoy fruitful partnership under the Russian-India Intergovernmental Commission on Military and Military-Technical cooperation – the main working body that oversees the implementation of cooperation plans and the progress of ongoing projects, and various delegation exchanges. Of course, we expect a further strengthening of our defence ties reaching new heights.
We also enjoy advanced military cooperation between the two armed forces. There’s a great enthusiasm from both sides with regard to the “Indra” joint exercises being held in various formats: be it separately Avia-Indra, Indra-Navy, ground forces exercises or since 2017 – in tri-services large-scale format. Just recently the city of Jaisalmer for the first time hosted the International Army Games – “International Scout Masters Competition”, where our Indian friends won this prestigious contest.
Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, visited New Delhi in July to discuss the Russian contribution to the Indian manned space programme “Gaganyaan”, cooperation in engine construction and satellite navigation.
Sputnik: Next month’s Eastern Economic Forum will see Prime Minister Modi and President Vladimir Putin engaging at different levels. There is a feeling on both sides that India and Russia’s Far East have an untapped potential for stronger and beneficial relations. Do you see any specific area of cooperation between Russia’s Far East and India?
Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev:We attach crucial importance to the fact that it will be the first visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Russian Far East - a unique territory, rich in natural resources, and strong in industrial capacity. Moreover, the Indian leader will be the Chief Guest of the EEF, which has established itself as Russia's major economic outreach to the Asian and Pacific regions, offering tremendous investment and business opportunities.
It is true that this is a relatively new region for Indian investors, but bilateral engagements are growing exponentially. The Russian Far East is famous for its diamonds, oil and gas, timber and biological resources. This region boasts considerable industrial capacity, ranging from defence-oriented plants to various civil enterprises capable of generating and sharing the most advanced technologies and products. Agriculture, mining, diamond cutting, tourism and education have already been identified as primary areas for developing partnerships.
The leaders will also traditionally overview the current state of bilateral relations, touching upon issues of security, counter-terrorism, military and technical cooperation, energy, economy and trade, investments and innovations, education and many others. They will synchronise their watches on major international developments with the view to further strengthening our coordination in global and regional affairs.
In total, we expect that this top-level groundbreaking event will be another testimony to the unstoppable Russian-Indian friendship and political and economic ties.