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70 years of India-Russia relations: A historic milestone

30-11-2017, 01:54

Relations between India and Russia are rooted in history, mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation.  This is a strategic partnership that has withstood the test of time, and which enjoys the support of the people of both countries.

Diplomatic relations between India and Russia began even before India achieved independence, on 13 April 1947. In the period immediately following independence the goal for India was attaining economic self-sufficiency through investment in heavy industry. The Soviet Union invested in several new enterprises in the areas of heavy machine-building, mining, energy production and steel plants. During India’s second Five Year Plan, of the sixteen heavy industry projects set up, eight were initiated with the help of the Soviet Union. This included the establishment of the world famous IIT Bombay.

A watershed moment in relations between India and the Soviet Union was the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971.  The Treaty was the manifestation of shared goals of the two nations as well as a blueprint for the strengthening of regional and global peace and security.

The nineties were a tumultuous period for both countries.  In 1990, India extended loans to the USSR in the form of technical credit and in 1991, India extended food credit and gift of 20,000 tonnes of rice.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, India and Russia entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993 and a bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994.

In 2000, during the visit of President Putin to India, the partnership acquired a new qualitative character, that of a Strategic Partnership.  The strategic partnership institutionalized annual meetings between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Russia and meetings have been held regularly since then.  During the 2010 visit of President Dmitry Medvedev  the relationship was elevated to the status of a Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.  So far, eighteen Annual India-Russia Summits have been held since 2000.  These have led to personal contacts and close understanding at the highest level between our leaders.

Both the countries have institutionalized dialogue mechanisms that report to two leaderships.  These are the Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), co-chaired by the External Affairs Minister of India and the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) co-chaired by the Defense Ministers of both countries.  These meetings identify priorities and review cooperation on a regular basis and are key platforms to take our cooperation forward.

This year, in the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations, India participated as Guest Country in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum-2017.  The Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi was the Guest of Honour.  During this time the 18th Annual Bilateral Summit was also held, which saw the adoption of the historic St. Petersburg Declaration: Vision for the 21st Century, and signing of 12 Agreements in economic and political areas.

Both countries are celebrating the 70th anniversary by organizing events across the length and breadth of the countries reflecting the deep and multifaceted relationship.

In addition to the Annual Summit, 2017 has seen visits to Russia by the senior most leadership of India, such as External Affairs Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister and National Security Adviser.  From the Russian side, two Deputy Prime Ministers have visited India, and more high level visits are planned till December 2017.

India has participated in all major economic forums in Russia including SPIEF, Eastern Economic Forum, Innoprom, Technoprom, IT Forum, Arctic Forum and others.

Defence:

The defence facet of the relationship is one of the strongest pillars of the India-Russia relationship and has withstood the test of time.  India, with Russia’s cooperation, has achieved capacity building in strategic areas through acquisitions and development of weapons.  The relationship is evolving from the traditional buyer-seller one to that of joint production and development, with emphasis on technology sharing.  Russia is committed to becoming a partner in the ‘Make in India’ programme

This year two rounds of the India-Russia Military-Industry Conference were held in March and August in which a large number of companies from Russia and India participated. India is the largest buyer of Russian military equipment and, at the same time, Russia is India’s principal defence partner. This year India participated in Army 2017, the Army Games and the spectacular Spasskaya Bashnya Band Festival.  The first-ever TriServices Exercise, Indra 2017, that India has ever held with any country was held with Russia on 21-29 October 2017 in Vladivostok, in keeping with the close cooperation between our two countries in the defence sector.  Several steps are being taken to increase training of officers in each other’s Institutions and more military exchanges.

Economic:

Trade between the two countries is an area which has been identified for special focus by both countries. Bilateral trade in 2015 amounted to US$ 7.83 billion. In 2017 there has been an upward trend in the trade figures.  In terms of volume, the present figures do not reflect the strength of the relationship or the potential of our economies, which is immense.  Realising this, our leadership has set a target of total trade in goods and services of US$ 30 billion each way by 2025.  In 2016, the top three items of import into India from Russia were precious metals, mineral products and chemicals.  The largest exports from India to Russia were chemical products, engineering goods and agricultural products. India ranks fourth in the world in terms of production of generic pharmaceutical products. Both sides are working to expand the trade basket and identify new areas of trade.

Both sides are making progress towards achieving the target of mutual investment of US$ 15 billion each way by the year 2025.  In 2016, Indian oil companies bought stakes in Russian companies and oilfields worth US$ 5.5 billion, and Rosneft has acquired an Indian company, ESSAR, in a deal worth US$ 13 billion.  This is not only Russia’s largest investment in India, but also India’s single largest FDI.  India and Russia have set up a US$ 1 billion Fund to promote mutual investment in infrastructure and technology projects.

India is also significantly increasing cooperation between the States of India and Regions of Russia.  We have nine sister State and sister city agreements, and more are under consideration.  A new stage in India’s interaction with Russian regions was reached during Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s meeting with Regional Governors in June 2017, and between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s meeting with Governors of the Far East.  The Russian Far East is a new focus of our policy.

India, Russia and other neighbouring countries are engaged in efforts to operationalise the International North-South Transport Corridor which promises to propel connectivity and trade relations between the two countries.  We are also working on a ‘Green Corridor’  to ease trade and customs formalities.  The two countries have signed a Protocol on 24 December 2015 to simplify visa procedures for businessmen.

In an important new step to integrate our economies, India and the Eurasian Economic Union have agreed to begin negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement.

The two countries have agreed to cooperate in projects in third countries. Already, we are discussing cooperation in the Roopur Nuclear Power Project in Bangladesh. Indian and Russian companies have been cooperating in oil and gas exploration in Vietnam.

Nuclear:

Russia is an indispensable partner in the sphere of nuclear energy and recognizes India as a responsible country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record. After the Paris Agreement on Climate Change India considers nuclear energy as an important source of energy to meet its energy and climate change obligations. This has brought both countries together into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Rosatom is building six units of nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu. Two units are already operational and the next four are in different stages of implementation.  This is in line with the “Strategic Vision” document signed in 2014 between President Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India attaches very high importance to local manufacturing in India of equipment and components for upcoming and future Russian-designed nuclear power projects.

Science and Technology:

India and Russia have several ongoing cooperation activities in the areas of space, science and technology, education and research.  A new High Level Science and Technology Commission was established in 2017.  The Indian Department of Science and Technology and Russian Foundation forBasic Research have celebrated ten years of fruitful scientific joint projects.  We have set up a Russia-India Network of Universities, and cooperation is underway in different aspects of space technology.  The most recent area of cooperation which is emerging is the Arctic which has a lot of multi-disciplinary potential.

Culture:

India and Russia have strong cultural ties, which are an important contribution to the strong and robust relations between the countries. Historical linkages have contributed to creating goodwill between the nations. As the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modiremarked, in India, every child knows that Russia is our country’s greatest friend and has always stood with us during the toughest moments.

The linkages that started with Afanasy Nikitin reaching India even before Vasco-da-Gama revealed India to the West, Gujarati traders  settling in Astrakhan and the establishment of the Russian theatre in Kolkata have all brought peoples of our countries closer.  Russian scholars like Gerasim Lebedev and Nicholas Roerich have travelled to India and studied Indian culture and philosophy. The grand epic of India, Mahabharata, has been translated into Russian.  Similarly, Russian literature and thinkers like Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin and others have had a profound influence and contribution to Indian literature and thought.  Several generations of Russians have grown up watching Indian films. Yoga in Russia has been growing and becoming increasingly popular since the 1980s, particularly in majors cities and urban centres.

India sponsors the Mahatma Gandhi Chair on Indian Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, Moscow. Russian Institutions, including leading universities and schools, regularly teach Hindi to Russian students. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions. Chairs on Ayurveda and Contemporary Indian studies have also been set up in different Russian Universities.

The number of Indian tourists to Russia and Russian tourists to India has shown significant increase in the last two years. The two countries are taking steps to facilitate easier access to each other’s citizens. The two countries have agreed to renew their Cultural Exchange Programme for the period 2017-2019. It has been decided to celebrate 2018 as 'Year of Tourism’ between India and Russia.

Regional and International Cooperation:

In the international arena both countries have similar positions and coordinate their actions. We cooperate closely within the United Nations, BRICS and G-20 groupings, as well as in the various structures in the Asia Pacific region such as ASEAN and East Asia Summit Forum. Russia supported India’s membership to the SCO and India was admitted as a full member of SCO in 2017.

The unique political proximity between the nations is reflected in congruence in global priorities. Both the countries share similar views on fighting terrorism without double standards, a more representative multi-polar world order based on international law with UN playing a central role, and resolving threats to international peace and security.  Russia supports India’s permanent membership of the  United Nations Security Council.  On Syria and Afghanistan, both countries have called for resolute action to bring about a lasting and peaceful solution, and defeating the forces of terrorism. We cooperate on other global challenges such as cyber security, preventing weaponisation of outer space and prevention of weapons of mass destruction.

Looking Ahead:

India and Russia have identified several new areas of cooperation. These range from deep sea exploration to building knowledge based economies based on science and technology, innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence, focussing on infrastructure, skill development, agriculture, shipbuilding, railways, aviation and greater connectivity, especially people-to-people  contacts. Special focus will be given to cooperation between the younger generation and cultural sphere.

As stated in the St. Petersburg Declaration of June 2017 between India and Russia,  “advancing the comprehensive development of the Indian-Russian relations is an absolute priority of the foreign policy of both States. We will continue to widen our scope of cooperation by launching large-scale initiatives in different spheres and enhance and enrich our bilateral agenda so as to make it more result-oriented.” India and Russia will continue to remain a role model for harmonious and mutually beneficial partnership and strong friendship between States. This will be to the benefit of our States and international community as a whole. 

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