During PM’s visit to Vladivostok this week, a MoI was signed to open a full-fledged maritime route between Russia’s eastern port city and Chennai on India’s eastern seaboard.
In Russian, Vladivostok is ‘Ruler of the East’.
Located on the Golden Horn Bay north of North Korea and a short distance from Russia’s border with China, it is the largest port on Russia’s Pacific coast, and home to the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy.
It is the eastern railhead of the legendary Trans Siberian Railway, which connects the far east of Russia to the capital Moscow, and further west to the countries of Europe.
At Vladivostok’s massive port, shipping and commercial fishing are the main commercial activities.
Automobiles are a major item of import at the port, from where they are often transported further inland.
To Chennai, by sea
An ocean liner travelling from Vladivostok to Chennai would sail southward on the Sea of Japan past the Korean peninsula, Taiwan and the Philippines in the South China Sea, past Singapore and through the Strait of Malacca.
It will emerge into the Bay of Bengal and then cut across through the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago to Chennai.
Time and distance
This sea route covers a distance of approximately 5,600 nautical miles, or about 10,300 km.
A large container ship travelling at the normal cruising speed of 20-25 knots, or 37-46 km/hour, should be able to cover the distance in 10-12 days.
At suboptimal “slow steaming” speeds of 18-20 knots (33-37 km/hour), at which long-distance vessels sometimes travel to in order to save fuel, it might take slightly longer — 12-13 days.
Trade and strategy
India is building nuclear power plants with Russia’s collaboration in Kudankulam on the sea coast in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district.
The opening of a sea route is likely to help in the project.
Even otherwise, a vibrant sea route will help in the upscaling of trade relations between the two nations.
It will also increase India’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, and especially the South China Sea, a deeply contested patch of the ocean that Beijing considers its stomping ground.
Significance of the route
Opening of this route between Chennai and Vladivostok assumes significance because it ensures there will be connectivity between the two major ports.
It will give impetus to the cooperation between India and the Russian Far East.
Some 48 years ago, when the U.S. and British Navies tried to threaten Indian security during the India-Pakistan war in 1971, the Soviet Union dispatched nuclear-armed flotilla from its Pacific Fleet in support of India.
Ever since then, the city of Vladivostok, located in Russia’s Far East, has had a special place in the hearts of Indians.
The less developed Far East
The Far East lies in the Asian part of Russia and is less developed than the country’s European areas.
India’s plans to invest in Russia’s Far East, thus, paying back the long-held Indian debt to Vladivostok.
As part of his ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy, President Putin is inviting foreign countries to invest in this region.
Friends distanced with time
The country’s outreach to Asian nations has especially gained momentum after the 2014 Crimea crisis spoiled its relations with the West.
At the same time, the idea of an ‘Indo-Pacific region’, which signals India’s willingness to work with the U.S. mainly to counter China’s assertive maritime rise, has also left Russia concerned.
Moscow is apprehensive that the U.S. would exert pressure on India’s foreign policy choices and that it could lose a friendly country and one of the biggest buyers of Russian military hardware.
Convincing Russia for a multipolar Indo-Pacific
New Delhi, on its part, has maintained that Indo-Pacific is not targeted against any country and stands for inclusiveness and stability.
PM Modi made this clear to Mr. Putin during their Sochi informal summit in 2018.
Later, at the Shangri-La dialogue, he again emphasised that for India, Indo-Pacific is not a club of limited members and that New Delhi wants to have inclusive engagement with all the relevant stakeholders.
This constant engagement has borne fruit and the two countries are now working for a multipolar Indo-Pacific.
On its part, Russia also wants to make sure that China does not become a hegemon in the Eurasian region and is hence deepening cooperation with countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia.
India has also been able to convince Russia that its engagement with the U.S. is not going to come against Russian interests.
How Far East is game-changer?
The Far East has the potential to become an anchor in deepening India-Russia cooperation; more so considering that New Delhi has expanded the scope of its ‘Act East policy’ to also include Moscow.
The area has the potential to strengthen India-Russia economic partnership in areas like energy, tourism, agriculture, diamond mining and alternative energy.
India’s move forward
Modi’s visit to Vladivostok (coming Sept) would not be an event in isolation as both nations have been drawing up the plan to cooperate in the region in the last few years.
A bilateral business dialogue was included in the business programme of EEF in 2017 and, in 2018, India was one of the 18 countries for which Russia simplified electronic visas to encourage tourism in the Far East.
New Delhi will also provide an annual grant of $10,000 to fund the study of Indology at the Centre of Regional and International Studies at Far Eastern Federal University.
Also, a MoU has been signed between Amity University and Far Eastern Federal University to intensify cultural and academic exchanges in the areas of research and education.
The indispensable opportunity
A lack of manpower is one of the main problems faced by the Far East and Indian professionals like doctors, engineers and teachers can help in the region’s development.
Presence of Indian manpower will also help in balancing Russian concerns over Chinese migration into the region.
Further, India, one of the largest importers of timber, can find ample resources in the region.
Japan and South Korea have also been investing and New Delhi may explore areas of joint collaboration.
India has also given due importance to ‘paradiplomacy’ where Indian States are being encouraged to develop relations with foreign countries.
States like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana and Goa would be collaborating with Russian Provinces to increase trade and investments.
For India, there is immense potential for mid-sized and small businesses who should be assisted to overcome language and cultural barriers so that they successfully adopt local business practices.
A meeting between the heads of the regions of Russia and various Chief Ministers from Indian States may soon take place and this should become a regular feature.
The two countries are also looking at the feasibility of Chennai-Vladivostok sea route that would allow India access to Russia’s Far East in 24 days, compared to the 40 days taken by the current route via Suez.
This route would potentially add the required balance to peace and prosperity in South China Sea and could open new vistas for India, like the India-Russia-Vietnam trilateral cooperation.
Great power rivalry is back in international politics, making it more unpredictable.
It is time when U.S. is interested in ‘deglobalisation’ and China is promoting ‘globalization 2.0 with Chinese characteristics’.
It makes sense for India and Russia to increase their areas of cooperation and trade in order to hedge against disruptive forces and make their ties sustainable.
Post World War II, Japan, Germany and the UK were closely aligned to the US and other western European nations were also in the US camp through NATO. India’s non-alignment post Indira Gandhi became Soviet Union-leaning and the US moved closer to Pakistan as a check on the Soviets who had taken control of Afghanistan. One could have argued India made a bad choice, but frankly, we were not very exciting to the US and strong Soviet backing to India after the 1971 war allowed the liberation of Bangladesh.
The collapse of the Soviet Union left us weak internationally and our economic policies had taken us into a major balance of payments crisis in 1991.
This was a blessing in disguise as it forced us to review both our economic policies and our global alignments.
With an IMF assisted structural adjustment programme, many parts of the economy were liberalised.
After the initial pain, we slowly moved away from the import substituting industry model we had followed and became a more market-friendly economy.
21st century’s Challenge
Two forces dominated the geopolitical context in the first decade of the 21 century — China and technology.
China became the second-largest economy in the world with its GDP going from $1 trillion to $10 trillion dollars in 15 years.
At the same time, the progress in technology was transformative on the back of massive computing power, ubiquitous high-speed connectivity, cheap and unlimited storage and the creation and capture of enough data to make machine learning intelligent and powerful.
As a result, technological power and cyber capabilities also became a superpower compulsion.
These two developments have led to a change in the basis of power and geopolitical alignment in today’s world. It has all happened in 15 years.
Evaluation of Power
Power now needs to be evaluated on four levels — military, economic, cyber and soft power.
Interestingly, now different countries lead in different areas, making alignment and geopolitics more complicated.
Militarily, it is still the the US and Russia in the lead.
China is a clear third.
In terms of economic power, the US leads followed by China, and Russia does not figure.
Cyber power – In the cyber domain, five countries have established positions – the US, China, Russia, Israel and Iran and others are lagging. Consider the Russian attack on the US elections, the purported cyber-attack by the US on Iran, the banning of Huawei, Iranian cyber-attacks on the Saudis and China’s great strength in digital and artificial intelligence.
Soft Power – In soft power, the US leads but China and Russia don’t really feature. In fact, India has a play.
The multilayered strategy of India
If we just observe India’s actions, it is comforting to note we are following a multilayered strategy, walking a complicated tightrope.
We continue to ally with Russia on arms’ purchases with our purchase of the S-400 Air Missile System, despite the threat of American sanctions.
Economically, though, we are trying to get closer to the US and are not fighting their unilateral sanctions against Iran on oil, despite the substantial impact on our balance of payments.
It is both sad and ironic that despite our great capability in technology and our big presence in Silicon Valley, we lag in cyber preparedness at great risk to ourselves.
India’s movement on data localisation is needed. Even Europe has imposed the GDPR. But overall, we need to act fast.
India’s Soft power Vision
With soft power, India is doing better.
We are advancing with our music, food and Bollywood and are going beyond West Asia into the affluent Indian diaspora in the US and UK.
Getting the UN to recognise a World Yoga day has been a master stroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is a great first step but our inbound tourism still lags behind.
If we act, we are well positioned. Faster arms purchases, developing cyber capability and using technology to address major gaps in education and healthcare are needed. We have the opportunity but not the right to become a third major power. No one will give it to us.
Russia has announced that it will confer its highest civilian award, the “Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,” on PM Narendra Modi for his work on bilateral ties.
Why this award?
The order was presented to the PM for his distinguished contribution to the development of a privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India and friendly ties between the Russian and Indian peoples.
The Russian honour comes after a week of the Indian premier being awarded the UAE’s highest civilian award, the Zayed Medal, for his crucial role in boosting the strategic relationship between the two countries.
About the Award
The award was established in 1698 but it was abolished during the communist era, before being reinstated in 1998.
Since then, it has been awarded to 18 people, mostly Russians, such as AK-47 designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, former president Mikhail Gorbachev and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Facts for Prelims
The Russian honour is the seventh international award conferred on Modi since he came to power in 2014.
The Zayed Medal by the UAE (2019), Grand Collar of the State of Palestine (2018), Amir Abdullah Khan Award is Afghanistan (2016) and Order of King Abdullaziz from Saudi Arabia (2016) are the most significant civilian awards given to the Indian prime minister by heads of Islamic nations.
He has also been awarded with the UN’s ‘Champions of the Earth’ Award for his leadership of the International Solar Alliance and pledge to eliminate single use plastic in India by 2022.
Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: INF Treaty, Avangard System
Mains level: Recent trend of USA’s disregard of bilateral and multilateral treaties and its impact on India as well as global geopolitics
INF treaty pull-back implications
Russia has a tested new type of strategic weapon, the intercontinental “Avangard” system.
The hypersonic missile could fly at 20 times the speed of sound and manoeuvre up and down, meaning that it could breach defence systems.
The final test comes after U.S. announced plans to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons pact, the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
Avangard hyper-sonic boost-glide missile system
Avangard, also known as “Objekt 4202,” is supposed to combine a high-performance ballistic missile with an unmanned glider vehicle for significant improvements in maneuverability and sustained top speed.
It is powered by a scramjet engine that accelerates it up to Mach 27.
When approaching a target, the glider is capable of sharp high speed evasive maneuvers in flight making it “absolutely invulnerable for any missile defence system”.
This technology allows Avangard missiles to travel at up to 20 Mach or approximately 24,700 km per hour.
It is a speed made possible by the use of “new composite materials” to stay within a stable range of 1,600 to 2,000 degrees Celsius.
Its boost-glider system grants it “lateral” and “vertical” evasive maneuvers by “several thousand kms.
Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: Shadow of US sanctions on India-Russia ties and how to balance both sides
Indo Russia relations
The shadow of America loomed over the India-Russia summit recently held in New Delhi
The question that dominated the meet was whether or not the deal for the Russian air defence missile system, the S-400, would go through
The contract for the S-400 was signed at the Delhi summit
Why worries about the deal?
The U.S. has been publicly warning for months that this purchase could attract provisions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which authorises the U.S. government to impose sanctions on entities for “significant” defence transactions with Russia
The sanctioned entity would be cut off from all business in the U.S. and with U.S. companies
Recent slack in ties
Indian and Russian perspectives today differ on key issues in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Afghanistan and China — and on India’s strategic linkages with the U.S., including on the Indo-Pacific
The Joint Statement issued at the summit has the usual laundry list of priority areas of cooperation, including infrastructure, engineering, natural resources, space and technology
It expresses the commitment to raise trade and investment to a level more commensurate with the potential
Opportunities for cooperation
Russia is natural resources-rich and India is resource-hungry
The U.S. and European sanctions on Russia between 2014 and 2016 are sector- and currency-specific
With proper structuring of business deals, trade and investment exchanges with Russia are possible, and without losing business with Europe and America
No benefits for the US
The threat to India-Russia defence cooperation extends well beyond the suspense over the S-400 deal
Every potential India-Russia defence deal could be subjected to a determination on the applicability of sanctions
Actually imposing sanctions would hurt U.S. defence sales to India, defeating one of the principal objectives of the legislation
The effort by the US would likely be to achieve desired results with the threat of sanctions
The India-U.S. strategic partnership is based on a strong mutuality of interests, but it was not intended to have the exclusivity of an alliance
India should not have to choose between one strategic partnership and another
The India-Russia dialogue should not get inextricably entangled in the India-U.S. dialogue
Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: Testing times for India-Russia bilateral relations and options available with India
Russian President’s India Visit
India-Russia summits have traditionally been short on time and ceremony and big on productivity
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 22-hour visit to Delhi last week was no exception
The two countries announced a number of agreements, including a $5.43 billion S-400 Triumf missile system deal, a space cooperation arrangement to put an Indian in space, and an action plan for a new nuclear plant
Exploring new avenues
PM Modi and Mr. Putin also addressed a business summit, in an attempt to diversify ties and increase bilateral trade, currently below $10 billion
Much of the fresh momentum in bilateral engagement will come from the energy sector
Several billions of dollars worth of investment and energy deals are in the pipeline
Geopolitical implications of agreements done
The signing of the S-400 air defence system deal is of far greater consequence than its size
It denotes India’s desire to deepen defence cooperation with Russia which is prepared to do this despite U.S. warnings that the deal could attract sanctions
This deal comes just a month after India signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for better interoperability with the U.S. military is a sign that India will not be forced or even persuaded into putting all its eggs in one strategic basket
Difficulties ahead for India
India chose to sign the S-400 deal but resisted concluding other major defence deals with Russia on helicopters, stealth frigates and assault rifles
More defence deals with Russia will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to give India a waiver from sanctions under CAATSA, its legislation aimed at curtailing defence and energy dealings with Russia, Iran and North Korea
Washington has already reacted to the S-400 deal, making it clear that any waiver will not be on a “country” basis, but on a “transaction-by-transaction” basis
Accepting a waiver will implicitly commit India to reducing its intake of Russian military hardware
New Delhi’s assertion of “strategic autonomy” and desire for multipolarity will be seriously tested in the coming months
The situation can be much more complex when friends expect you to choose between them
It said that the possibility of Russia joining this CPEC initiative is not being discussed with Islamabad
It denied the reports in Pakistani media about it holding “secret talks” with Pakistan
This news helps to correct the earlier reports of Russia being involved in CPEC. Through this you can understand how misinformation is spread in international relations. Hence, unless you read official statements, it helps to be sceptical to some degree.
India-Russia relations : Momentum in transforming Strategic Partnership
In late December, Indian Prime Minister made his first state visit to Russia to take part in the 16th annual bilateral summit. PM Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin used the summit to review bilateral ties across a number of areas. Let’s glance over revamped relations of India-Russia!
Can we have some background of bonding legacy?
Relations with Russia are a key pillar of India’s foreign policy, and Russia has been a longstanding time-tested partner of India.
India & Russia signed “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000.
Under the Strategic Partnership, several institutionalized dialogue mechanisms operate at both political and official levels to ensure regular interaction and follow up on cooperation activities.
During the visit of the Russian President to India in December 2010, the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.”
Let’s dive into the PM’s visit for bilateral summit in Russia?
With the signing of sixteen agreements, this is being seen as very significant in sustaining and expanding India-Russia ties.
One major step taken is a deepening of India’s defense partnership with Russia for Make in India.
On the eve of Modi’s visit to Russia, the Indian government announced the purchase of five S-400 supersonic air defense systems from Russia, costing around $6 billion.
For instance, the two sides agreed that the Kamov 226 helicopter would be manufactured in India.
How will bilateral partnership boost Make in India programme?
India and Russia agreed to strengthen the defense partnership in line with the “Make in India” program. So while only the public sector has been involved in defense cooperation between the two countries to date.
The new initiatives will encourage joint manufacturing of defense products in India and motivate the private sector to play a role in developing a strong defense manufacturing base in India.
It should be emphasized that “Make in India” also aims at having India emerge as an essential player in the global defense market.
India is forecast to spend $250 billion over the next decade upgrading its military and Russia wants to seize the opportunity to become a major part of this mission, expressing its readiness to work jointly with India on defense manufacturing.
So, How does economic and trade cooperation matters in economic growth?
Enhancing trade and economic cooperation between India and Russia is a key priority for the two governments.
On the economic front, India and Russia decided to institutionalize the CEO’s Forum, which will meet twice a year – once in India and the other in Russia.
During 15th Annual Summit, the two leaders set a target of US$30 billion bilateral trade by 2025.
Hydrocarbons is an active area for exploring cooperation between the two countries.
In May 2014, ONGC and Rosneft signed an MoU for bilateral cooperation in subsurface surveys, exploration, appraisal and hydrocarbons production in the offshore Arctic region of Russia.
In September 2015, OVL signed an agreement with Rosneft to acquire 15% stakes in Vankorneft project.
Did you know about India-Eurasian Economic Union FTA?
Moscow is a gateway for India to Central Asia.
In this regard a significant move by PM Modi was the effort to move forward on the India-Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The EEU FTA will introduce the free movement of goods, capital, services and people-people contacts and provides for common transport, agriculture and energy policies, with provisions for a single currency and greater integration in the future.
The FTA between India and the EEU comprises of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
It offers India access to a huge market with a population of over 180 million, with a joint GDP of an estimated $2.7 trillion.
As Russia tries to re-calibrate its economic orientation towards the Asian region, India, as one of the fastest growing G20 economies can be a significant partner for Russia.
Shall we move into Political Relations?
Annual Summit meeting is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism under the Strategic Partnership between India and the Russian Federation.
So far, 15 Annual Summit meetings have taken place alternatively in India and Russia with the 15th Annual Summit held in New Delhi during the visit of President Putin to India on 11 December 2014.
During the Summit, 20 documents were signed covering cooperation in nuclear energy, defence, hydrocarbons, science & technology, trade and investment etc.
Prime Minister Modi and President Putin also adopted a Joint Statement “Druzhba-Dosti: A Vision for strengthening the Indian-Russian Partnership over the next decade.”
Let’s see our Defence Cooperation with Mighty Russia?
India-Russia military technical cooperation has evolved from a simple buyer – seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence technologies and systems.
BrahMos Missile System, Joint design and development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, as well as the licensed production in India of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks, are examples of such flagship cooperation.
An Indian contingent participated in the military parade in Moscow on 9 May 2015, during the 70th anniversary of the victory in the World War II.
The Inter Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) is in place to review defence cooperation between the two countries.
Let’s know about importance of International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC) ?
The INSTC was initiated by Russia, India and Iran in September 2000.
To establish transportation networks among the member states and to enhance connectivity with the land locked region of Central Asia.
The North-South Transport Corridor is an ancient route that connected South Asia with North Europe for centuries.
This route was used by the European, Indian, Russian and many other foreign traders.
During the late 17th and early 19th centuries, Indian traders used this route to reach out to the Central Asian markets.
The modern day INSTC is a multi-modal transportation route linking Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran, and onward to northern Europe via St. Petersburg in Russia.
How is it important to India to protect its strategic and economic interest?
The INSTC envisages movement of goods from Mumbai (India) to Bandar Abbas (Iran) by sea, from Bandar Abbas to Bandar-e-Anzali (an Iranian port on the Caspian Sea) by road.
Then from Bandar-e-Anzali to Astrakhan (a Caspian port in the Russian Federation) by ship across the Caspian Sea, and thereafter from Astrakhan to other regions of the Russian Federation and further into Europe by Russian railways.
Given India’s strategic interests in the West and the Central Asian region, and need for greater economic and energy cooperation between South, Central and the West Asian region.
New Delhi has stepped up its engagement to reconnect with its extended neighbourhood.
Was there any momentum on Nuclear power deal?
Russia is an important partner in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and it recognizes India as a country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable nonproliferation record.
In December 2014, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Russia’s Rosatom signed the Strategic Vision for strengthening cooperation in peaceful uses of atomic energy between India and Russia.
Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is being built in India with Russian cooperation.
KKNPP Unit 1 became operational in July 2013, and attained full generation capacity on 7 June 2014.
While its Unit 2 is in the process of commissioning in the later part of 2015.
India and Russia have signed a General Framework Agreement on KKNPP Units 3 & 4 and subsequent contracts are under preparation.
What’s Next to the geopolitical space?
Needless to say, defence remains at the centre-stage of the bilateral relationship, although with a diversified supplier base India is at a better position today to negotiate deals with Russia especially concerning technology transfer and co-production.
A sharp rise in Russia-China defense ties, the assertive foreign policy of a rising China in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the China-Pakistan nexus will all encourage India to continue to strengthen ties with Russia.
It is clear that India-Russia relations remain vital for both countries amid a changing regional and global security environment.