Delhi, Moscow Move Closer

Every summit brings Russia and India closer without in any way increasing the distance between them and other countries. These journeys by Indian and Russian leaders between Moscow and Delhi are not sight-seeing trips but exercises in adding substance to the existing relations that have survived the Cold War and the change of guard both at Kremlin and Delhi. It is not political wisdom to expect dramatic alignments and realignments to follow every summit. But to dismiss the summits as picnics or well-deserved reprieve from routine diplomacy is to miss the central point of such conclaves – the resurrection of balance and harmony in the world order. The latest summit at Kremlin is significant, first, for President Vladimir Putin's open declaration of Russian intent to use military force to restore to the UN its supremacy in mediating the international system and second, for the understanding between Moscow and Delhi on the transfer of nuclear technology.

Indo-Russian ties signify the most abiding bilateral relations in the world, based as they are on complete identity of views. As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told the Russian Academy of Sciences there are no divisive issues between the two countries. Though the joint declaration at the end of the summit referred to terrorism and the earliest restoration of sovereignty to Iraq, it is Russia's unmistakable stand on Pakistan's export of terrorism that has become the icing on the other gains India made in space and nuclear technology. The reference to terrorism came in handy for Putin to clear the mist on the Russian stand on Pakistan's threat to its bigger neighbor. During the summit Kremlin agreed with Delhi’s view that before any dialogue with Pakistan could begin that country must stop cross-border terrorism and dismantle terrorist infrastructures on its soil. Putin praised in glowing terms the several peace initiatives India had taken to bring Gen. Musharraf to the negotiating table and called on Pakistan to respond to these overtures positively. In turn, Vajpayee lent his support to Russia in its effort to preserve its territorial integrity and constitutional order in Chechenya.

The reaffirmation of strategic partnership by both countries is a fresh repudiation of America's unilateral strategies in the name of terrorism. On the one hand this partnership strengthens the hands of the United Nations which was the major victim of the Bush administration's hegemonic drive and on the other serves a notice on the United States not to exploit the concerns of terrorism-affected countries for strengthening its grip over world's energy resources. The emphasis of Vajpayee and Putin on UN remedies for international disputes is a clear signal to Washington against the use of anti-terrorism drive for purposes not connected with its suppression. Vajpayee minced no words in conveying to the Bush administration India's inability to supply troops to police Iraq. Heads of both countries maintained that no anti-terrorism coalition could be successful without injecting pluralism into such an arrangement.  

Vajpayee was happy that defense co-operation between the two countries had acquired great versatility, encompassing a wide range of joint research, design, development and production. He cited the launch of Brahmos missile as an example. The Declaration on Global Challenges and Threats to World Security and Stability mentioned the importance of bilateral strategic relationship built around defense, and science and technology co-operation and co-ordination.

Joint space research has already crystallized into a key area of Indo-Russian partnership in unmanned space missions to the moon and in building a space navigation system. Both countries signed in Moscow a memorandum of understanding that provides for a massive Russian role in the Indian Space Research Organization's mission to the moon.  Russia has agreed to share its pioneering experience in lunar expedition and to help India construct space antennas and build electric rocket engines needed for lunar missions. The understanding also includes India's participation in the upgradation of the Russian global space navigation system, Glonass, and joint fabrication and launch of navigation satellites.

On the sidelines of the summit, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev talked of his country’s determination to work for an end to restrictions on the flow of nuclear technologies to India. He referred to the urgent need to review the Nuclear Suppliers Group's guidelines and promised to work towards exempting India from such guidelines. This is understandable because India's nuclear technologies are all indigenously developed without the help of third countries. India has also an unblemished non-proliferation record and has genuine compulsions to depend on nuclear power to meet its energy needs.

Russia ignored American protests in supplying two nuclear reactors to the Koodanakulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. Moscow also refused to be cowed down by American threats of sanctions if it supplied nuclear fuel to the Tarapur atomic plant. There does not seem to be any sense in these restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technology because India is already a nuclear weapons state. Even American think tanks have called for lifting restrictions on the supply of dual use technologies to India.

Now both Russia and India have found a way of skirting these NSG guidelines. Russia has offered to supply floating nuclear plants to help India bypass NSG restrictions. Because these reactors remain Russian property and will be operated by Russian personnel they do not fall under the NSG category. One 77-mw. floating unit generates enough electricity to support a town of 50,000 people or provide enough fresh water for one million people. Rumyantsev said, "We cannot be breaking any NSG restrictions if we build floating nuclear power plants and trawl them to India's shores. The plants will be operated by Russian personnel and we will be selling electricity to India."

Prime Minister Vajpayee chose the Academy of Sciences forum to call for a synergy between scientific endeavor and business enterprises of the two countries. He praised the Russian role in placing the Indian pharmaceuticals industry on the world map. Experts in India however feel that the Indian industry is slow in recognizing the potential of the Russian market with its economy growing stronger by the day. Russians are in a great mood to spend on foreign goods. Its imports are rising very fast. Even a small country like Taiwan is doing better than India in exporting goods to Russia. Experts cite how Sri Lanka has managed to edge India out of Russian tea market.

About Indo-Russian trade, India's most respected newspaper, The Hindu says, "A general perception here is that there is an information gap that hampers trade growth and business-to-business contacts. The opening of a CII office at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry last month, the coming opening of a SBI-Canara Bank in Moscow, and a growing flow of Indian business delegations to Russia should help remedy this situation. The problem of long and costly transportation of goods from India to Russia is also being solved with the construction of a North-South transport corridor which cuts shipping time between Mumbai and St. Petersburg by 10-12 days and transport costs by 15-20 per cent."

Dasu Krishnamoorty

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov