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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 marks turning point in Indo-Russian ties

 BUSINESS STANDARD
 

The year 2009 proved to be a turning point in the ties between India and Russia as the two strategic allies put aside the chill and 'misunderstandings' to re-discover each other in the changing global scenario and extended their defence cooperation for another decade.


Though western nations, mainly the US, is trying hard to enter India's multi-billion dollar lucrative arms market, the long-standing ties between New Delhi and Moscow are standing the test of time with India concluding a key deal this month to buy more Russian nuclear reactors.

High profile visits of President Pratibha Patil in September followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in December and their parleys with the top Russian leadership put the relations back on track, derailed by what was seen in Moscow as New Delhi's pro-US tilt.

By signing an umbrella civilian nuclear deal and inter-governmental agreement during Singh's visit to extend the long-term India-Russia Military-Technical Cooperation Programme by another 10 years till 2020, New Delhi has given a 'political signal' that Moscow will remain its key strategic partner as in the past, sources in the PMO said.

Since November 2007, when Singh visited Russia for the annual bilateral summit towards the end of the then President Vladimir Putin's term, the relations, time-tested in the past, were clouded by the pricing of aircraft carrier Gorshkov and seemed to be heading nowhere.

Even President Dmitry Medvedev's maiden India visit in December 2008, cut short by one day due to demise of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, failed to melt the ice of Moscow's suspicion about New Delhi's 'drift' towards Washington in the wake of the nuclear deal signed during the Bush Administration.

The 'Year of India in Russia' was also celebrated in 2009 after the success of the 'Year of Russia in India' in 2008.

The brainchild of the erstwhile President Putin, the year long cultural fests of the two countries in India and Russia, were projected to invoke the force of people's diplomacy to rejuvenate the traditional ties, by involving the younger generations of the two countries.

In the second innings of the UPA Government, Prime Minister Singh undertook his first foreign visit to Russia in June to attend the summits of BRIC and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Yekaterinburg and gave a signal of special importance India attaches to its relations with Russia.

According to Tatiana Shaumyan, Director of Centre of Indian Studies of the Oriental Institute of the Russian Science Academy, the Kremlin did not fail to notice Singh's gesture, which to a great extent dispersed the 'India falling into the lap of Americans notion widely subscribed in Russia'.

However, the ice of 'misunderstandings' in the bilateral ties was finally broke by President Patil when she visited in Moscow in early September.

Sahumyan said: "Although in the Indian political system, role of the President is considered to be mostly ceremonial, but this wont be true in case of President Pratibha Patil, who perhaps played a key role in re-introducing the traditional warmth in bilateral relations through her personal 'charm' by mesmerising Medvedev and Putin."

During her Russia visit, President Patil managed to reassure the ruling Kremlin tandem that India's engagement with the US was not at the cost of relations with Russia.

This message was repeatedly conveyed by Commerce, Defence and External Affairs Ministers Anand Sharma, A K Antony and S M Krishna respectively during their Moscow visits to prepare for the trade, defence and economic agenda of Prime Minister Singh's annual summit talks on December 7 with President Medvedev and parleys on economic cooperation with Prime Minister Putin.

On its part, Russia also realised the Indian sentiments on the Gorshkov upgrade project's cost escalation and delay in delivery of the much-needed aircraft carrier and its impact on the overall climate of the bilateral relations.

Two weeks after his Yekaterinburg talks with Singh, Medvedev travelled to the Sevmash shipyard in the White Sea town of Severodvinsk and blasted the management, bureaucrats and ministers involved in the Gorshkov project saying it has become the "sole irritant in the Russian-Indian relations".

Earlier, Putin had flown to Komsomolsk-on-Amur to take appropriate measures and arrange extra finances for completing the trials of accident hit 'Akula-II' class the Nerpa nuclear attack submarine to be leased to the Indian Navy.

The Indo-Russian CEO's Council meeting on the sidelines of Singh's visit was a major event, which opened the gates for full blooded economic cooperation and trade between the two nations, which have set the ambitious target of $20 billion bilateral trade by 2015 double the $10 billion target set for 2010.

The global meltdown, which hit Russia the worst among the BRIC economies, prodded strongman Putin to focus on economic ties with Asia in general and India in particular.

"Strengthening the strategic partnership with India remains one of the key priorities of Russia's foreign policy. This to full extent applies to interaction on the global arena, as well as to the development of multi-faceted economic relations," Putin said at Indo-Russian CEO's Council meet.

Putin, who is scheduled to visit India in March 2010 at the invitation of Prime Minister Singh, is keen to bring about 'qualitative' changes in the bilateral economic ties.

"We see, that cooperation with India has acquired real anti-crisis stability, it is not afraid of sharp fluctuations in the global economic conjuncture. Now our task is to move further, activate the whole arsenal of opportunities for the diversification of Russian-Indian contacts," Putin declared.

Since he has the reputation of a 'man of words and deeds' the Russian strongman's forthcoming visit to India could make 2010 an 'Year of India and Russia'.

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