Sputnik: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and India. There have been a lot of meetings at political and expert levels this year, including a summit in St. Petersburg. How can you assess the results of the outgoing year?
Saran: I would describe 2017 as a year of continuity, consolidation and intensification of our relationship. In many ways this year has been a historic year for our relationship. Apart from the fact that it marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Russia it also marked the8 year in which India became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and it also marked the year in which we agreed and decided to commence negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement between India and the Eurasian Economic Union.
This year we also opened a new chapter in our relations with the regions of Russia. This was begun by Prime Minister Modi’s first meeting with Governors of some regions in St Petersburg, which was followed by the External Affairs Minister’s meeting with Governors of the Russian Far East in Vladivostok. And as a result of these initiatives we are in the process of having visits of Russian Governors to India. The Russian Far East is also a new dimension to the Indian-Russian relationship.
During the year we have cooperated not only on bilateral issues but also on regional and international issues. We have attended meetings of the Heads of State as well as Heads of Government, and participated in other events of SCO. We have had many events under the BRICS format and most recently we had the 15th meeting of Russia, India and China Foreign Ministers in New Delhi in December 2017.
I would also like to draw attention to the St. Petersburg Declaration that was adopted in June 2017 between the two sides because that Declaration contains the blueprint of what we wish to do between our two countries in the 21st century. The agenda between India and Russia is vast, the menu is very rich, and I think we are well placed to take this important relationship forward.
And just to add to the historic nature of this year — 2017 marked the year in which we saw the biggest foreign direct investment by Russia into India, and the biggest foreign direct investment into India by any country of the world. This was the deal between Rosneft and Essar Oil, which is valued at $13 billion.
Sputnik: During the SPIEF 2017, India was widely represented during the forum. Is India already preparing for participation in the SPIEF 2018? Who could lead the delegation?
Saran: For the SPIEF 2018 we have already received an invitation and we are going to be represented again at the Forum. We find that the Forum is a very useful platform. It is premature to talk about who exactly will lead the Indian delegation but I can confirm that India will be represented at Ministerial level at the next SPIEF. We will also have a business delegation, which will be attending the Forum.
Between this year’s Forum and next year’s Forum we hope to achieve progress in the area of deepening and strengthening our economic relationship. In June 2017 Prime Minister Modi had announced the establishment of the "Russia Desk" in the Invest India agency. That Desk has already begun to work quite actively. I am confident that by the time the next SPIEF takes place we should have more projects and we should have greater investment stories coming out of both countries.
Sputnik: Does this mean that we could expect new agreements? In what areas?
Saran: It is a little premature to specify the projects. Energy is an important area of achievement. There are some discussions going on between India and Russia in the field of oil and gas at the commercial level. We can also see some progress in the nuclear sector. Plus there are other sectors – for example, in railways, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals and so on.
Sputnik: During the SPIEF 2017, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, RZD International and India’s Ircon International Limited agreed on a joint investment in railroad infrastructure projects in Russia and India. What do these projects involve?
Saran: In Goa in 2016 during the Summit last year we signed an agreement with the Russian Railways to work on a study to increase the speed of trains between the cities of Nagpur and Secunderabad in India. Currently the Russian Railways are working on this project. They have opened an office in India, and are finalizing their study. Once the study is completed it should lead to more business opportunities between two sides.
India has one of the largest railway networks in the world. We have a multibillion dollar plan for investment in our railways sector and we have a large manufacturing capacity within the railway sector. We would like to use Russian technologies to help India modernize and upgrade its rail infrastructure.
Sputnik: What progress has been made in discussing possible investments by TATA Group into the construction of a coal terminal in Kamchatka?
Saran: There is a commercial discussion that is underway in which there are confidentiality issues involved. A Memorandum of Intent was signed during the India-Russia Summit which took place in Moscow in December 2015 on this project. The two sides have been working since then to take this forward.
Sputnik: Some international media outlets have recently reported about increasing tensions in Russian-Indian ties and their negative effect on bilateral military and technical cooperation? Is that true? Or could this information be a sign of unfair competition by third parties?
Saran: There are no tensions between India and Russia when it comes to our military technical cooperation. Our military technical cooperation is longstanding, it is based on mutual understanding and we have a close and deep dialogue with Russia in this area. We have a history of success in this sector and we are confident that our military and technical cooperation will continue in a manner that has happened in the past.
We have other projects, which are under discussion and all these are intended to be implemented through the Make in India programme of our Government. These projects are moving forward.
Sometimes stories about difficulties in our relations with Russia in this area, which appear in the media, are inspired by interested parties and we hope that the media is responsible in their reporting and project facts as they are in an objective manner.
Sputnik: What is the real reason behind the delays in the implementation of joint projects and in the signing of key arms deals, including on the S-400 missile defense system and a batch of Mi-17V5 helicopters?
Saran: Military technical cooperation projects are projects that involve sophisticated technology, they involve large amounts of investment and they affect national security. So by their nature the conclusion of agreements to implement these projects takes time. We have our national procedures and internal mechanisms which have to be followed so that we conclude these projects in such a way that the result is satisfactory and meets the requirements of the consumers.
When it comes to a specific project like the one you mentioned – S-400 – technical negotiations are underway and not much time has lapsed since the signing of the foundational Agreement.
Whether it is this or any other project, we are committed to moving forward on these projects in a manner that is mutually acceptable, transparent and meets financial and technical needs and requirements of all stakeholders.
Sputnik: Russia is currently under US sanctions. Have those restrictions affected the implementation of the S-400 deal and other projects, including in the oil sector, such as cooperation between Rosneft and Gazprom with Indian companies?
Saran: As far as sanctions are concerned, we are not a party to the sanctions. Our interaction and relationship with Russia proceeds on the basis of the bilateral agreements that India has signed with Russia. When we sign agreements with Russia we stand committed to implementing these agreements.
As for the energy sector — we have an ongoing dialogue between the two governments. We are also discussing some of the satellite fields of Vankorneft and Tass-Yuriakh and there are other projects which are underway.
The Sakhalin-1 investment was concluded in 2002. It has been one of the most successful investments that we have made in Russia. In addition, we have other investments in the energy sector in Russia. I would refer to Imperial Energy in Tomsk, and our investment last year in two other fields in Russia which are "Tass-Yuriakh" and Vankorneft. We also have an agreement signed between Gazprom and GAIL for supply of gas to India, on which commercial discussions are taking place between two companies. All these projects will contribute to the creation of what we have called "Energy Bridge" between India and Russia.
Sputnik: There have been reports in the media that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin may visit India in December? Will this visit take place?
Saran: Both sides are preparing for the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to India. He will be visiting India to attend the inter-session Co-Chairs meeting of the India-Russia Inter Governmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation which is co-chaired on the Indian side by External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. The visit may happen in the coming days, and it will also provide an opportunity to review other aspects of our relations, including military-technical cooperation.
Sputnik: Could you assess the results of 2017 in terms of India and Pakistan joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)? There have been numerous speculations on the issue, on how the two countries could interact within the SCO framework.
Saran: We are very happy to be a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That was a very important outcome and development in India’s foreign policy. India has signed on to all relevant Agreements and Protocols which are applicable to member-states of the SCO. We are fully committed to participating in all its activities. Most recently our Commerce and Industries Minister Suresh Prabhu was in Moscow to attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Trade and Economy Ministers. We also participated in the SCO Heads of Government Meeting in Sochi.
One of the most important areas which we believe is of importance to all members of the SCO is the fight against international terrorism. During the Heads of Government Meeting in Sochi a few weeks ago almost every single Member highlighted this serious challenge that the world faces. This perspective corresponds to our own national challenges. There is a lot of synergy and a lot of common approaches between India and Russia. We will participate in the SCO strictly in accordance with the principles and Charter of the Organization.
As far as Pakistan is concerned – we have our differences with Pakistan, which we will address and deal with, but there are different forums and platforms to address those problems. Above all, there are bilateral approaches to deal with these problems.
Sputnik: How do you think the recently presented US strategy on Afghanistan will impact Russian-Indian cooperation in this region, and abroad?
Saran: We hope that the United States and Russia can work together on Afghanistan. This will be vital for the success of the global community’s collective efforts in this region.
These are not problems that are specific to Russia or India. They affect the whole region. Whether it is ISIL (Islamic State/Daesh) or Taliban – these are forces that need to be dealt with. We have attended meetings of the Moscow Format and we will continue to do so. Russia has told us of its intention to create a Contact Group in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to discuss Afghanistan. We look forward to participating in that.
The number one challenge in Afghanistan today is to defeat terrorism, extremism, violence and radicalization in Afghan society. There is another major challenge that we both face which is the flow of drugs. There is no difference in our perception of the threat from narcotics.
And finally, of course, India has age old civilizational links to Afghanistan. Our relationship with people of Afghanistan is very strong. Every year thousands of Afghans visit India for education and medical treatment. We have invested close to three billion US dollars on building infrastructure in Afghanistan. India is committed to not only contributing to peace and security in Afghanistan but we are also committed to reconstruction and rebuilding and empowering the people of Afghanistan. These approaches, I believe, are in conformity, most importantly, with the aspirations of the Afghan people.
Sputnik: Could you comment on the results of the latest Russia-India-China summit?
Saran: The Foreign Ministers of Russia-India-China have met fifteen times. This mechanism began in 2002. The 15th meeting in Delhi in December 2017 was very successful. The Communiqué that was issued is rich and reflects the importance that all three countries attach to this dialogue. It also reflects their commitment to the role they feel this group can play in promoting global peace and security. For example, the three countries took a strong line on the need to condemn, combat and defeat terrorism.
There were common positions which were articulated on regional hot spots like Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, the Korean Peninsula and Eastern Ukraine. Apart from that, all three countries are also members of BRICS and SCO.
A noteworthy decision that was to hold the second round of consultations on the Asia Pacific region in New Delhi next year. This is a positive and important move forward. India is open to other forms of cooperation within the RIC framework. Of course we will move in the direction and speed at which other Members of the Group are comfortable.
Sputnik: What are your thoughts about the next presidential summit?
Saran: We have a system of Annual Summits between our two countries. The next – 19th Summit — is due to take place in India in 2018. We are starting work to prepare for that Summit. We are discussing dates and other details through diplomatic channels.
What is also important to note is that apart from these Summits our leaders also meet on the sidelines of other international events, like BRICS and G-20, for example. They therefore have an opportunity to meet regularly and this is what provides the political direction to keep our relationship in a strong position and to constantly enhance our special and privileged strategic partnership.