[Sansad TV] Perspective: India – Russia Annual Summit

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  • The Summit between India and Russia marks the 21st Annual Summit between the two countries after the 2+2 dialogue.
  • This will be the first in-person meeting of the Russian President and PM Modi after 2019.
  • It is in continuation of the tradition of Annual Summits alternately in India and Russia.

The 2+2 Dialogue

  • It is a strategic conversation between the defense and the foreign ministries of two countries having diplomatic relations.
  • India now has a 2+2 format dialogue mechanism on strategic and security issues with four of its key strategic partners, Russia being the latest.
  • The three others — Australia, the US and Japan — are also ‘Quad’ partners.

2+2 Dialogue with Russia

  • Russia is one of those countries with which a 2+2 format talk “fits perfectly” in India’s foreign policy.
  • To be sure, the India-Russia 2+2 do have a particularly strong signaling component when seen against the backdrop of the S400 controversy.
  • It can be read as a reminder to Washington that the S400 deal and broader India-Russia defense cooperation will continue, regardless of US concerns.

Expected outcomes of this Summit

  • There is a propensity towards the signing of agreements between India and Russia in areas of Defence, Trade, Energy and also Space Technology.
  • The Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics (RELOS) Agreement is expected to be signed between the two countries.
  • Both nations have agreed for the manufacture of over six lakh AK-203 assault rifles by a Joint Venture, Indo-Russian Rifles Private Ltd, at Korwa, Amethi, in UP.
  • Both countries will take an attempt to deepen their collaboration with a primary focus on regional security concerns with the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

India-Russia Relations: A backgrounder

  • The relations between Russia and India are an important and privileged strategic partnership.
  • The relationship began with a visit by Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru to the Soviet Union in June 1955.
  • During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union (USSR) had a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship.
  • After the collapse of the USSR, Russia inherited its close relationship with India resulted in the special relationship.

The Partnership

Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defense, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism cooperation and space.

(1) Strategic Relations

  • India is the second-largest market for the Russian defence industry.
  • In 2017, approximately 68% of the Indian Military’s hardware import came from Russia, making Russia the chief supplier of defence equipment.
  • It has rose above a buyer-seller relationship with the joint ventures projects.

(2) Economic Relations

  • Bilateral trade between both countries is concentrated in key value-chain sectors.
  • These sectors include highly diversified segments such as machinery, electronics, aerospace, automobile, commercial shipping, chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc.
  • Both countries set a target of reaching US$30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025.
  • Energy sector is another important area in Indo-Russian bilateral relations.

Recent trends in bilateral ties

Despite the best efforts, divergences grew in the bilateral relationships as the underlying structural changes in the international environment are pulling the two nations apart.

(1) Bilateral divergence

  • While the top leadership of the two nations have continued to engage with each other, divergences have been cropping up with disturbing regularity.
  • For India, what should be concerning is Russia’s increasing tilt towards Pakistan as it seeks to curry favour with China.
  • Moscow had historically supported India at the UNSC by repeatedly vetoing resolutions on the Kashmir issue.

(2) Military-Defence Complexes

  • Strains are becoming apparent as India moves further along the path of military indigenization and import diversification.
  • India’s procurement from the US and France has also been seen as a heated divergence between the two.
  • This was a result of the unreliability of Russian supplies, as manifested in late arrivals, defective parts, and perennial conflicts overpricing and warranties.

(3) Cultural Vacuum

  • On an everyday level, while India films and yoga are popular in Russia, no parallel exposure to any aspect of Russian popular culture exists among Indians.
  • This is the most woefully neglected aspect of their relationship, suffering on both sides from lack of funding and, no less important, a shortage of political will.
  • Another aspect of ties is tourism which could be much more vigorous between the two countries than present India’s US affinity

(4) India-US ties

  • India’s engagement with the US addresses its core concerns regarding regional security.
  • The signing of the long-awaited Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is set to elevate the bilateral defence partnership and give India access to advance US defence systems.
  • A closer engagement with the US is a challenge for India, as this relationship is not likely to be a partnership of equals, for the foreseeable future.

Significance of ties

(1) Russia needs India as

  • Ukraine conquest: A market for its goods to bypass Western sanctions imposed after its power push in Ukraine.
  • Countering China: Despite its renewed friendship with China, Russia will soon find itself in competition with it as Beijing regards itself as the new G2 along with the US.
  • Against US hegemony: India can help provide the multi-polarity that Russia fiercely seeks.

(2) India needs Russia because

  • Energy security: An area of special interest for India is the exploration of hydrocarbon reserves along the coast of Russia’s Far East where India has decided to extend a $1 billion Line of Credit.
  • Space collaboration: Despite expanding its purchases from the US, Israel and Europe, India still needs to collaborate with Russia to master future technology including for space.
  • Defence purchases: It improves India’s bargaining power when it negotiates arms sales with the West.
  • Indian exports: Russia can be a major market for Indian industry such as pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy products, bovine meat and frozen seafood.
  • Geopolitical importance: Russia continues to be a balancing force against any designs China and Pakistan may have in our region.
  • UNSC ambitions: New Delhi needs Moscow’s support in the former’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Way forward

  • The recent comprehensive U.S.-India Strategic 2+2 Dialogue is a model to follow.
  • There should be more meetings at the highest state level, regular annual reports on the progress of the working groups, and reinvigorated interactions.
  • India’s cores strength is that it follows an independent foreign policy.
  • On its long way to become a global power, it will likely have to follow a zigzag course, balancing between American demands, long-term friendship with Russia and its own strategic necessities.
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