Studio guest Kyrill Koktysh, Associate Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations with Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Manish Chand, a foreign affairs analyst, and founder-editor of India Writes Network, Alexander Kadakin, Russia’s Ambassador to India, Georgy Petrov, Vice-President of Russia’s Chamber of Trade and Industry, and Anchal Vohra, TV anchor, foreign affairs editor of CNN-IBN, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
This visit to India: how important was it for Russia and is it the new direction?
Kyrill Koktysh: Actually, it is not a new direction, it is an old direction, because we have always had good relations with India. So, we can discuss how deep and productive these relations were, but they always existed and they were always good. The main result for me is the continuation of building the BRICS community. And the most important is the agreement to use the national currencies to serve the goods transfer between the two countries. Then, we have military cooperation. And this is the cooperation that actually requires the high level of trust.
And also the important result is, probably, the transformation or growing up of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, because next year India and Pakistan are going to join it. So, this means that the SCO will unite four countries with the nuclear weapons. It is a new reality for the global community and a new configuration of the regional power. It is, first of all, something that guarantees in the whole region.
We are coming to the new quality of the relations.
Kyrill Koktysh: That’s what I'm saying, definitely! And I stress that military cooperation, cooperation on highly sophisticated weapons requires the high level of trust. These documents were signed and that means that we already have this required level of mutual trust.
How was it for India?
Manish Chand: I believe in India the reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive. India always believed that this is a special relationship and this summit meeting has reinforced this conviction about Russia playing a very pivotal role, especially in Mr. Modi’s agenda of economic resurgence and his “Made in India” initiative. If you look at it, one of the most important outcomes is a marked upswing in the economic relations between the two countries. This has been an underperforming area. Our defense and strategic relations have been robust all these years, but economically the relations have not taken off. And this time around you have some very substantive deals and substantives pacts that may change the economic landscape of the relations between India and Russia. So, this is a win-win situation.
Look at the deal on the energy, for example, which is the first of this kind, between the Rosneft and the Essar Oil of India. And the Russian companies are willing to invest in the Indian infrastructure projects, like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Smart Cities and freight corridor. So, these are the deals which could potentially prove to be a game changer for the economic relations between India and Russia. And that’s where the focus was needed, I think, and this summit has provided that required focus.
Also, it is very significant that the major diamond expo was jointly inaugurated by President Putin and Prime Minister Modi. And Prime Minister Modi himself spoke about a direct trade of diamonds between the two sides. So, I believe all these are very positive indications. The economic content of the relationship will deepen and it will reinforce and galvanize the overall relationship.
So, with the India and Russia partnership, are we talking of a new reality in the world no?
Anchal Vohra: Yes, India and Russia have been friends for decades now. That reality has new challenges, as we see, because the geopolitical circumstances are changing. Russia signed up the defense deal with Pakistan – something that India has not taken well. India and the U.S. have got much closer over the last decade and their relationship is moving forward. As you must be aware, President Obama is going to be India’s guest on the Republic Day on the 26th of January. But both countries understand this, they understand these new challenges and are mindful of it. This visit has played a significant role as the outcome is certainly reflective of the old relationship that India and Russia share.
The focus of this visit has certainly been on the energy cooperation between Russia and India. Russia has come forward to set up nuclear plants, ten or maybe even more, that goes on to say that India and Russia trust each other deeply. Russia seems to be one of the first countries to come forward, despite the nuclear liability law and is keen on setting up nuclear plants. Begging the question if the two countries have come up with some sort of understanding on the issue.
Also, the manufacture of the advanced Russian helicopters in India is going to strengthen India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign. So, all of this goes on, even though the geopolitical circumstances are changing and there are challenges to the relationship. But both countries are mindful of that and want to continue moving forward.
There is an ongoing debate in India over who is getting the upper hand in the battle for India between Russia and America.
Anchal Vohra: India is trying to have a relationship with both. Clearly, with Russia there is a relationship that India wants to continue. With America India is going on strengthening our ties, but it is a difficult situation. It is a tightrope walk for India where India wants to continue to be better friends with Russia, but also make more friends. Perhaps, it is the same challenge for Russia as well. But this visit goes on to show, the kind of agreements that have been signed, some are even being hailed as game changers, this goes on to reflect the importance that India and Russia continue to give each other.
And what about the personal relations between Modi and Putin, how are they seen in India?
Anchal Vohra: In India President Putin is seen as the strong president for Russia. I mean, many would agree that he is a controversial figure, some would even say that there’s been several controversies surrounding our own Prime Minister. But the personal relationship between both has been seen as cordial, nice and warm. Not as loud, as one would have seen when our Prime Minister met the Japanese Prime Minster or when he was on a swing with the Chinese premier in Gujarat.
If you can sum up, what is the most important strategy for Russia in India?
Alexander Kadakin: The most important strategy for Russia in India remains the same. And that is that we have a very special kind of relationship – strategic and most privileged partnership. The 20 agreements which were signed, they cover the whole gamut of our relations, from the outer space to the depths of the oceans. These agreements are target at exactly carrying out this multifaceted partnership.
This year we've seen the change of Government in India. Do you feel the new wind in the Indian-Russian relations related to this change?
Alexander Kadakin: Yes, of course! We do feel that the new Government here, headed by Prime Minister Modi, it is a result-oriented Government, as the Prime Minister himself. And we could feel it, but the general direction of our cooperation remains the same, that, maybe, the accent has to be put in a more correct way on the energy sector, on the nuclear energy, on the non-military supplies. And we have chosen the priorities which are to be implemented by the new Government.
At the moment the bilateral trade doesn’t exceed $10 billion, are the two countries planning to do something about this?
Georgy Petrov: The potential of both economies is much bigger, than the volume of our bilateral trade. The visit of President Putin and the talks in New Delhi with the new elected Prime Minister show that the main focus was made on how to increase our economic relations. We should not forget that both countries are members of BRICS. And it is a very special challenge, because our intention is to find new projects not only on the bilateral level between our two countries, but to enlarge it for the participation of the other members of BRICS. And for us it is absolutely obviously that the possibilities are huge. India is a very big market and we hope that new agreements, contracts and memos singed in India can increase our bilateral trade at least by 50% in the nearest future.