Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was on a two-day visit to attend the 5th Eastern Economic Forum at Vladivostok in the Far East, also held the annual summit with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The visit which focus was to take the strategic partnership to new heights had new things to offer to each side. India and Russia announced further expansion of cooperation in the field of energy, defense, space, and maritime connectivity.
India is already investing in the fields of diamond, coal and gold mining in the region. The two countries also agreed to cooperate in the supply of coking coal from the Russian Far East to India. Both sides explored the idea of temporary replacement of manpower from India to this region. In the sector of manpower, India’s contribution can be significant given the success rate of the contribution of the Indian expatriate. Under Russia’s State Migration Policy Concept 2019–2025, India can help Russia in sectors such as construction, including the building of affordable housings, installation, and repair, waste management, digital technologies, healthcare, metal and machine building, food and agriculture, etc. The global climate change which will impact Siberia would open up opportunities in the scientific and non-scientific cooperation.
The 20th Annual Summit between India and Russia’s was a testimony of the ‘special, time-tested, and privileged’ strategic partnership in the changing dynamics of the world order.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was on a two-day visit to attend the 5th Eastern Economic Forum at Vladivostok in the Far East, also held the annual summit with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The visit which focus was to take the strategic partnership to new heights had new things to offer to each side. India and Russia announced further expansion of cooperation in the field of energy, defense, space, and maritime connectivity. A new direction of cooperation to the Far East region was also introduced.
India unveiled its ‘Act Far East’ policy at the economic forum. This new policy goes in continuation with its economic diplomacy. The prime minister announced a $1 billion line of credit for the development of the resource-rich region. This policy will help New Delhi to invest and cooperate more with the region and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
India is already investing in the fields of diamond, coal and gold mining in the region. The two countries also agreed to cooperate in the supply of coking coal from the Russian Far East to India. Both sides explored the idea of temporary replacement of manpower from India to this region. In the sector of manpower, India’s contribution can be significant given the success rate of the contribution of the Indian expatriate. Under Russia’s State Migration Policy Concept 2019-2025, India can help Russia in sectors such as construction, including the building of affordable housings, installation and repair, waste management, digital technologies, healthcare, metal and machine building, food and agriculture, etc. The global climate change which will impact Siberia would open up opportunities in the scientific and non-scientific field including, infrastructure building of this particular region. India can use its good office to focus in this part on a long-term basis. Prime Minister Modi expressed his appreciation to the hard-working people of the Far East and paid tribute to their courage (living under harsh weather conditions, etc). He also expressed his expectation from the Indian Diaspora for their active participation in the region. The apprehension, if there might be, within India to migrate there because of non-acclimatized conditions might be mitigated.
The summit displayed some of the best state craftsmanship by the two leaders, at the backdrop of the challenges the two countries have been facing, including the pandemonium created by New Delhi’s immediate neighbors on an internal issue of the country. Russia’s support to India, including at the United Nations Security Council, making clear that the abrogation of Article 370 was an internal matter of India.
Though there were misleading reports about Moscow commenting on the issue as bilateral, the confusions have been clarified. Russia indicated that India’s move on Jammu and Kashmir issue was within the framework of the Indian Constitution. The two leaders reiterated the purpose and principles of the UN Charter on ‘inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of member states’ in the 2019 annual summit. Since, Russia had been cooperating closely with Pakistan and India with the US respectively, there was a feeling that there was some dissatisfaction between the ‘special and privileged’ strategic partners. However, the two leaders reiteration during the annual summit that the relationship ‘have never been and will not be susceptible to outside influence’ gives out a reassuring and strong message to the domestic and external audiences respectively.
To further elevate the ‘unique, confiding and mutually beneficial’ partnership to new heights the two leaders focused on the sectors of trade, defence, space, energy and maritime connectivity.
Economic and Energy Sectors
In the economic field, President Putin expressed his satisfaction on the 17 per cent increase in the annual trade volume which reached $11 billion in 2018. The two leaders prioritized a strong, multifaceted trade and economic cooperation as the foundation for further increase in the economic and trade engagements. Interest in expanding Russia’s participation in the "Make in India" program and of Indians in investment projects in Russia was discussed. The economic pillar in the bilateral relationship has been weak. In 2011, the annual trade volume had stood at $8.5 billion and the two countries had agreed that the trade volume by 2015 will touch $20 billion. By 2018, there has been an increase of $2.5 billion in the trade turn over. Both the sides have reiterated their target of achieving $30 billion by 2025, which seems little far-fetched.
In the energy sector, the future graph looks promising and what is more with the tension between Iran and the US, export from Russia is a welcome step for India. Praising the existing energy engagements, India and Russia determined to forge cooperation in geological exploration and joint development of oil and gas fields in Russia and India, including offshore fields. They agreed on the long-term flow of energy from Russia to India, including through the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic. India’s keenness on cooperating with Russia in the Arctic is a positive step for New Delhi as the country would be able to develop a more detailed Arctic policy. There is a general assumption amongst some strategic thinkers that India does not have an Arctic policy and its engagement as an observer member at the Arctic Council extends majorly till the scientific field.
The opening of the maritime corridor between Chennai and Vladivostok will also facilitate New Delhi’s Arctic policy. This shipping route which has been under discussion since some time is said to enable the transfer of cargo between Chennai and Vladivostok in 24 days in comparison to over 40 days which is the stipulated time being taken from the current route (from India to Far East Russia via Europe. The existing shipping route from India to Russia, including the eastern part, is through Suez Canal and Rotterdam Port). India is trying to strengthen its energy sector, given its economic ambition to reach $5 trillion target by 2024 and to protect its energy imports given the globally volatile geo-energy scenario.
The Roadmap for cooperation in Hydrocarbons for 2019–2024 which was signed during the summit is expected to take the energy sector to new heights in the next five years. In the nuclear sector also, Russia announced to build 12 more Russian-designed power units within the next 20 years. Like the defence sector of India, which was built with the help of the then erstwhile Soviet Union, the credit for the foundation of the civil nuclear sector in India goes to Russia. The strong integration and the trust-building between the two countries particularly in these two sectors not only strengthen the partnership but open the avenues to future cooperation. In fact, with these initiatives, the ‘energy bridge’ which is being envisioned between the two countries seems getting solidified.
India and Russia have been closely associated in the multilateral organizations both at the global and regional levels. The two leaders spoke of the significance of the BRICS, R-I-C and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). In fact, the SCO was of major focus during the discussion between the two leaders. To make SCO an important and strong pillar, the SCO members are currently engaged in the joint military exercise named ‘Tsentr (Centre) 2019’ that started from 10 September to 21 at six combined training grounds located in the Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Kurgan, Astrakhan and Kemerovo regions, in Dagestan and the Altai Territory, as well as in the Caspian Sea. This exercise holds significance, especially, after the tensions prevailing between the two SCO members India and Pakistan. The maturity of the two countries should not be underestimated. For Russia, it is a diplomatic victory to be able to bring them together for the common purpose of countering international terrorism.
The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) was also discussed. The focus has been given to electronic document workflow, including an introduction to digital technologies and satellite navigation into the transportation process. The INSTC is gaining steam slowly and steadily. Talks are on to develop joint logistics projects in India and Russia using INSTC and other international transport corridors. However, the tensions prevailing between Iran, another member of the project and the US does impact the developments. India and Russia expressed their determination to continue mutually beneficial and legitimate economic and commercial cooperation with Iran; however, the prevailing tension between Tehran and the US cannot be overlooked.
In the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) field, President Putin hopes that with the establishment of a free trade area between India and the EAEU, additional opportunities for diversifying trade will be created. However, there is not much progress being made in this field. Negotiations are still going on the FTA between India and EAEU. The trade between the EAEU members and India is still low. The trade volume between New Delhi and the member states stood at $7.3 billion in 2016, a dip from $7.6 billion in 2012. In contrary, India’s trade volume with the US and China is higher than its with the EAEU countries, including Russia.
On the defense sector, India and Russia have traveled a long way from a buyer-seller relationship to equal partnership through their joint ventures. During the 2019 summit, a major breakthrough has been achieved: India-Russia agreed to prepare a framework for cooperation on reciprocal logistics support . With this agreement, both countries will be able to use each other ports and air bases including in the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic, respectively. Although, given the special and privileged partnership the agreement seems little late however the significance of it cannot be overlooked.
Apart from the signing of the logistics between India and Russia, it was also announced that India will start manufacturing spare parts and components for the Russian military equipment under transfer of technology and set up of joint ventures. The Chennai and Vladivostok route along with New Delhi’s further engagement in the Arctic seems positive. Apart from the cargo to be shipped through this corridor, India stands to benefit as New Delhi will be cooperating in the shipbuilding process, including in ice-class vessels which will be crucial for the country’s Arctic policy, in the Zvezda shipyard.
Speaking about the sector of space for India, Russia’s contribution cannot be overlooked since the Soviet Union time. The growing significance of the outer space has opened further avenues for the two countries to cooperate including in the fields of satellite navigation and manned missions. During the 2019 annual summit to further concretize its partnership with Russia, India announced that the Indian cosmonauts, for the Gaganyaan manned mission, will be trained in Russia.
Russia’s contribution to India’s two important sectors—defense including space and energy including civil nuclear cooperation cannot be underestimated. The time traveled between the two countries since the Soviet Union time is commendable, given the changing dynamics of the world order. Though there are lacunas in the relationship such as in trade volume or delay in negotiations (India — EAEU) or delay in functional mechanism (INSTC) or diplomatic misunderstandings (the developing relationship between India-US and Russia-Pakistan/China), etc. Nevertheless, India and Russia have been able to rise above all and insulate their strategic partnership.
Overall, the annual summit and the 5th Eastern Economic Forum could be seen as a huge success, deepening recent developments in all the sectors, including the introduction of the new ‘Act Far East’ policy. India and Russia can use their good offices  and bring countries together, leaving not a single country behind, and focus on making the world a better place, free from nuclear and chemical weapons or outer space militarization or cybersecurity threats or other traditional and non-traditional threats that humanity faces.
Disclaimer: The views are that of the author and not of ICWA.
1. India signed a similar agreement with the US in 2016 and Singapore in 2017. It is looking forward to sign agreements for logistic support with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Britain.
2. India and Russia shares strong government to government relationship which helps in the convergence on various regional and global issues including in non-intereference in internal affairs of other countries as well as inclusive and mutual development of all countries.