VLADIMIR PUTIN'S INDIAN VISIT-A COUNTERBALANCING ACT IN INDIA-RUSSIA BILATERAL RELATIONS
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is currently in India on a two-day visit under a cloud of US-EU sanctions over his aggressive Ukrainian policy, is looking for vindication of the sanctimony of Russia's position in the comity of nations. What better way to achieve his goal than by undertaking a visit to India, an old friend and the biggest democracy in the world? India has, on its part, already announced that it was not a party to Western sanctions, making it clear that it had no intention of becoming one in the future either.
Cooperation in Trade and Economy
The spade work for his visit having been done, Putin announced that he was looking for closer cooperation with India in the trade and economy sectors. This would evidently counter Western sanctions. No more a dominant force in India's defense and foreign policy matters, Russia has managed to exercise its benevolent impact on India's role in the strategic affairs of the sub-continent. Russia's shift in focus from defense to trade and economy sectors is in keeping with the current priorities of the two countries on account of the changed geopolitical realities. With the ascendancy of Narendra Modi to the country's power structure, India has moved closer to regional actors like Japan, Vietnam and other South East Asian countries which have a commonality with India in their attempt to counter China's hegemonic aspirations and aggressive ambition to rule the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Having already succeeded in securing the understanding and tacit approval of the US for India's position in sustaining the status quo of the region's maritime equations, Modi is now all out to enlist Putin's support to round off his strategy to counterbalance China's unbridled ambition for maritime supremacy.
The India-Russia bilateral trade volume stands at a modest $6 billion as against a target figure of $20 billion for the year 2015. Instead of carrying on at the pace of the current trend, the two countries are expected to embark on an ambitious $40 billion project, which involves laying of oil and gas pipelines from Russia to India. Such a big ticket project has the potential to turn around the trade volume to a staggering $100 billion. Cooperation in the field of energy security ranks high on India's shopping list. With an eye on weaning Russia from the Chinese area of influence in energy cooperation, India has a proposal for an energy agreement with private sector companies lined up. Thus, it is not only ONGC but private sector players too who are expected to go for Russian proposals for investments in the Siberian oil fields. ONGC would also be involved in exploration of oil in the Arctic. OVL and Russia's largest oil company 'Rosneft' have already signed a MoU in October this year for cooperation in the Arctic shelf. Indian private companies are, however, a bit wary of the prospects of business opportunities in Russia. Russia is, in the interim, keen on shipping Liquefied Natural Gas to India, as its cost would be lower the cost of sending natural gas to India through cross-border pipeline. Russia's energy exports to India would offset the effect of its dwindling trade with the western countries.
Direct Trade in Diamond
Another area of cooperation is direct trade in diamond. Russia is the world's largest diamond-producing country. Yet it exports only 16% of rough diamonds to India which is the world's largest manufacturing hub for cut and polished diamonds, accounting for 60% of global supply on value and 85% in volume. Employing nearly one million workers, it has skilled manpower to expand business. India is a global diamond polishing hub where 14 out of 15 rough diamonds are polished. Russia has been exporting 63% of rough diamonds to the European Union. Facing US-EU sanctions over Ukraine, Russia has the opportunity to help India emerge as a key diamond trading hub and an alternative to European centres. Russia is expected to sign 12 long-term contracts with Indian companies during the visit.
Russia, which is the only country which can live with India's nuclear liability law in a bilateral understanding, has a huge proposal to build as many as 24 nuclear reactors in India. However, only six have been planned so far. The second of the six, located at Kudankulam, is in its final stages of completion and is expected to go on stream in 2015. The next reactor is expected to be built near Visakhapatnam.
In the field of defense cooperation, Putin proposes to discuss with Modi, export of equipment and close technological cooperation even though Russia's resumption of defense relations with Pakistan would be an irritant. Sale of Russian aircrafts to Pakistan would only be a takeoff on sale of helicopters in the 1960s. Although India has lately been looking Westward in defense procurement, Russia's doing business with Pakistan at a time when India's relations with Pakistan have hit an all time low, would indeed be a sour point in the Modi-Putin dialogue.
One crucial area of discussion between the two leaders would be fighting the spectre of international terrorism. Both India and Russia have been victims of terrorism of the Islamic fundamentalists who have wreaked havoc in the two countries as well as in their neighborhoods. Putin has vehemently attacked terrorism both in terms of military action and policy statements. He has unequivocally condemned those who demand introduction of Sharia law in Russia, making it clear that there was no place for such elements in his country. India has been fighting terrorism from across the border in its own way and has realized that the time has arrived to mount an onslaught against international terrorist outfits like IS, Al Qaeda, the Talibans, LeT and other Jehadist elements, jointly by the international community. Russia's cooperation is expected to be sought in India's fight against international terrorism.
Putin's visit is lined up with back-to-back programmes. Due to paucity of time, he would not be addressing a joint Parliament session, as announced earlier. He would, instead, be visiting a world diamond conference, which would highlight the economic cooperation aspect of his visit to India. Nor would he have the time to visit the nuclear reactor built with his country's help at Kudankulam.
Putin is no stranger to India, the current visit being his sixth. Nor are Modi and Putin meeting for the first time. The two leaders have already met twice before - the first time was in July this year in Brazil on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit and the second time at Brisbane in October at the G20 Summit. The ice having already been broken, Modi and Putin, the two unrivalled leaders of their respective countries, are expected to have close and warm interaction and meaningful dialogue to the mutual benefit of their countries, which augurs well for the renewal of an age-old and time-tested friendship. Although India and Russia had drifted from each other in the recent past due to geopolitical compulsions, their coming together, once again, is indicative of the resurgence of their joint contribution to the maintenance of world order.