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On October 20, 2020, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) held a joint webinar “Russia — India Strategic Partnership: Assessing Progress and Chartering the Path Forward”, dedicated to the 20th anniversary of signing of the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India.

On October 20, 2020, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) held a joint webinar “Russia — India Strategic Partnership: Assessing Progress and Chartering the Path Forward”, dedicated to the 20th anniversary of signing of the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India.

Andrey Kortunov, RIAC Director General, T.C.A. Raghavan, ICWA Director General, Nikolay Kudashev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to India, and D.B. Venkatesh Varma, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Russia, delivered welcoming remarks.

The webinar was structured into three sections: “Global agenda against the background of systemic crisis: making the most of Russia’s and India’s shared interests and overcoming divergences”, “Regional strategic dynamics in Eurasia, Asia Pacific and Indo-Pacific: outlining avenues for Russia – India collaboration”, and “Seeking new priorities for bilateral interaction: trade and investment flows, innovations, science and technologies”. The meeting brought together senior experts and diplomats from the two countries.

Gleb Ivashentsov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation and RIAC Vice President, and Amb. Asoke Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, analyzed the current strategic context for the Russia–India relations paying special attention to the role of UN as a platform to advance bilateral interests and achieve desired goals.

During the second section, Dr. Sergey Lunev, Professor at MGIMO University and National Research University Higher School of Economics, and Dr. Vivek Mishra, ICWA Research Fellow, presented their views on regional aspects of Russia–India cooperation. They particularly focused on the issues pertaining to the Indo-Pacific concept as well as third parties’ roles in the regions.

The last section was essentially practical as Dr. Lydia Kulik, Head of India Studies at the SKOLKOVO Institute for Emerging Markets, and Prof. Sanjay Deshpande, Director of the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies at the University of Mumbai, analyzed the prospects for economic, scientific and technological collaboration between Russia and India. It was stressed that enhanced cooperation in technological sphere is of vital importance for the bilateral strategic dialogue of today.

RIAC Program Manager Ksenia Kuzmina moderated the discussion.

Main points of the discussion

Regarding the global context of Russia–India cooperation

  • 20 years ago, when the Declaration on Strategic Partnership was signed, the world was different and the environment was more suitable for bilateral relations. Today the international context has become more challenging as there are new players, trends and developments. In this regard, both accomplishments and stumbling blocks in Russia–India cooperation are worth analyzing.

  • Russia and India are facing three common challenges today that can be formulated as three transitions, with the first one being geopolitical, the second – technological and energy-related and the third – connected to security. As for geopolitical transition, it is necessary to discuss if Russia and India want to simply preserve their positions in the existing world order or actively participate in this transformation.

  • Globalization is shrinking, demanding new ways to protect Moscow’s and New Delhi’s interests. The dilemma of today lies between strategic autonomy and sufficient room for external actors.

  • At the same time, the states today are as weak as never against the backdrop of global developments, such as climate change, deterioration of the global public health system, and lack of regulation in the sphere of technologies. Multilateralism is also in decline.

  • Russia and India share similar values, understanding of the world. And their bilateral relations are based on trust. It is extremely important to maintain cooperation in moving towards a multipolar world, including via the UN system and regional platforms, stressing the need to address global and regional conflicts collectively and by political means.

  • Moscow and New Delhi could intensify their collaboration in the UN in such areas as climate change (clean energy programs), cyber space (human development dimension of the technology) and terrorism (including in the General Assembly) to address global challenges. Russia and India could also take a fresh look on Chapter 9 of the UN Charter, insist on international cooperation being carried out under the UN scrutiny, and possibly lead the process of tailoring its provisions to the realities of the day.

  • However, there are shortcomings in the UN system, where India needs Russia’s support. This concerns the reform of the Security Council in the first place. Connectivity is another priority of New Delhi which could be fixed in the Security Council resolutions.

  • Whereas Russia–India cooperation has not been heavily interrupted by COVID-19, the pandemic has left the EU disunited, BRICS and the UN inactive, exacerbating the US–China rivalry. According to Russian experts, while the United States showed little solidarity with their allies and failed to curb the pandemic at home, China came up with effective domestic measures, international aid and is likely to be the only country, showing economic growth in 2020.

  • It is conceptually wrong, though, to draw parallels between the current situation and the Cold War as there are no competing ideologies at present. What is likely to appear is the non-polar world as both China and the US will be unable to form the pole. In this regard, Russia and India could pursue a new form of non-alignment policy without interfering into the US–China rivalry.

Regional aspects of the bilateral agenda

  • In a view of some Russian experts, post-bipolar world has weakened Indian position in the region, so its policy has become more spot-oriented. It also remains a region of Russia’s vital national interest as the country does not detach itself from Asia. Consequently, both countries need to come up with new initiatives for Asia-Pacific.

  • The central concept of discussions at the regional level is the concept of the Indo-Pacific region. There are still differences in defining the Indo-Pacific and not all players have established their positions regarding this initiative. Russia balances between criticism of the American geopolitical view of the region and its own vision as former Prime Minister Medvedev once put it – as an economic and cultural place, an opportunity for people to trade and travel. At the same time, according to Indian experts, Russia sees Indo-Pacific as a potential maritime link with India.

  • Russia thinks that the imperative in the region should be driven by the international law under the UN rather than rule-based order as promoted by the West. However, the degree of lawlessness in the region today is striking.

  • Strategic interaction in Asia-Pacific depends also on third parties. Beijing is not satisfied with Moscow’s declaring India its big partner in the region. India in its turn is uncomfortable with China’s being Russia’s close partner in Asia. This, Russian experts think, might impose a mediator role on Moscow.

  • It would be a good idea to invite smaller players to participate in building new regional security architecture, but most of them keep relying on bilateral ties with the US. The ever growing connections of India with the US and Japan, including those in the form of military exercises, are worrisome for Moscow.

  • However, there are positive moments in cooperation: Russia and India always support each other in regional organizations. Russia supports India’s bid to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation mechanism, and Moscow was supported by New Delhi while joining the East Asia Summit. Russia also promoted India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization but had to accede to the same step for Pakistan, causing frustration in New Delhi.

  • Russia was also the founder of the Russia–India–China (RIC) that laid the ground for BRICS but plays no effective role in Asia-Pacific at the moment. This format needs reassessment and adjustment to the existing realities. India and China both are interested in overcoming West-centrism, so it might be worth strengthening RIC as well.

  • There are two more issues on the regional agenda: possible cooperation in Central Asia and Afghanistan in the spheres of security and economy.

  • While Russia and India are facing similar geopolitical pressures on their borders as their neighborhoods are being redefined by external factors, they should consider cooperation in this sphere as well. Capitalizing on effective cooperation on extremism and separatism earlier, the countries could collaborate tighter in anti-terrorist activity in the region.

Bilateral economic and technological cooperation

  • COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for businesses as it has become impossible to work «on the ground», so it is important to adapt national and international business strategies of Russian and Indian enterprises to these new realities. Apart from this, bilateral cooperation needs more favorable domestic conditions for businesses and financial support.

  • Generally, Russia and India need to expand market opportunities and cooperate closer in the energy sector, including nuclear energy as there is a growing demand for energy resources in India. They could benefit from each other’s experience in the field of nanotechnology, metal industry, chemical engineering and pharmacy, biotechnology and space exploration.

  • Russian experts suggest that concrete steps should be taken to explore the Russian Far East. Coal production and mining, steel and aluminum supplies, restoration of the Vladivostok–Chennai Maritime Corridor, the International North–South Transport Corridor cooperation, introducing national currencies into bilateral trade, – are all potentially beneficial spheres of interaction.

  • Companies should also rely on digitalization not as a target, but as a necessary driver of their businesses since there are great opportunities for high-tech cooperation. Today among positive examples of such are the joint production of the Russian vaccine «Sputnik V» by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Indian company Dr Reddy’s; applications, launched with the support from Russian venture capital, allowing for remote diagnosis of human condition and diseases of crops; cooperation in tracking and logistics; industrial IoT.

  • Another important sphere to work on is education as talent is a prerequisite for technological development.

  • Still, digitalization presents uncertainties and insecurities, making the world transparent. There is a global need to agree on new rules for the new digitalized world, but the optimism here is not strong. The world is likely to be moving towards the system of islands of digital sovereignty, and Russia and India may find themselves on different ones. That is why synchronization of approaches is vital in this sphere.

  • However, there are some factors, negatively influencing economic and technological cooperation between the two countries. Firstly, such spheres as, for example, cooperation in mining and infrastructure are connected with state protection of investment and lengthy legal procedures. Another difficulty is presented by high costs of transportation. Here high hopes are connected with the Vladivostok–Chennai Corridor.

  • Some Russian and Indian experts also assume that to boost bilateral trade countries could come back to the idea of creating a Free Trade Area between the EAEU and India to expand the FTA regionwise.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
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