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Convergence of India-Russia Ideas In Many Geo-Political Matters Reflects Close Synergy

Dr Nivedita Das Kundu, Senior Research Advisor, USI was interviewed by Geopolitics magazine for its special edition in April-May 2016. This is the transcript of the interview.


Dr Nivedita Das Kundu, Senior Research Advisor, USI was interviewed by Geopolitics magazine for its special edition in April-May 2016. Following is the transcript of the interview.


What is your suggestion for India and Russia when it comes to accommodating the changes in relationships with other nations?

The bilateral relationship between India and Russia was revived with the declaration of a Strategic Partnership between the two countries, during the visit of President Putin to India in the year 2000. Since then the Indo-Russian relationship has diversified enormously and today it is uniquely strong and also expanding in the areas of defence, nuclear energy, hydrocarbons, space research, science & technology. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Russia during December 2015 re-energised the ties between both the countries. In civil nuclear cooperation, doubts about the vitality of the bilateral relationship have ended. The pace of cooperation between the two nations in nuclear energy is increasing over years. India and Russia have made progress on their plans for twelve Russian nuclear reactors at different sites. The agreement on nuclear cooperation will increase Indian manufacturing content in these reactors. This will also support Prime Minister Modi’s mission of Make in India. The significant civil nuclear deal will guarantee an un-interrupted fuel supply for Indian nuclear plants. Other benefits from this agreement would include research and development, construction of nuclear plants and upfront consent for the reprocessing of spent fuel. The signing of this landmark inter-governmental agreement on the peaceful use of atomic energy between the two countries has got the potential to expand the horizon of nuclear relationship between the two Nations.

Do you think a lot needs to be done on trade issues?

Both India and Russia are now also moving towards expanding the economic relationship which is the weakest point in the bilateral cooperation. It has been observed that in spite of accelerated growth and immense opportunities in each other’s economy, statistics show business transaction is much less than the potential that exists between India and Russia. Promises had been made by the leaders of both countries earlier too, but not much has happened. However, to put these words into practice and strengthen the economic pillars of the relationship, now India has created a special notified zone to facilitate direct trade between the world’s largest uncut diamond exporters. Russia and India which processes 90% of the world’s uncut diamond will now be able to cooperate in this sector successfully. Also the work on logistics is going on to make trade and economic cooperation faster. The Green Corridor project has taken off and it is expected that the International North South Transit Corridor (INSTC) through Iran will significantly reduce transportation time and cost.  Now India and Russia are also moving forward fulfilling the India-Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) Free Trade Agreement. This will also benefit India to connect Central Asia quite easily. The private sectors of both the countries are also getting connected with each other.

What is your suggestion for India and Russia when it comes to accommodating the changes in relationships with other nations?

India’s or Russia’s ties with other countries will never be at the cost of time-tested relationship between both the Nations. India and Russia are in agreement on issues and concerns related to number of global matters and assured strong commitment to deepen the cooperation in the international arena too. Russia and India has been collaborating strongly in the United Nations and in other multilateral forums like BRICS, East Asia Summit, G20 and in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and this cooperation and support will continue further. India and Russia are cooperating in combating terrorism without discriminating between terrorist groups and target countries. Both the countries also feel that early political settlement through dialogue in West Asia is essential for restoring stability and containing extremism in the region.

The convergence of Indian-Russian ideas in many geo-political matters reflects a close synergy. This relationship is based on a strong national consensus in both countries that has cut across ideologies or political differences. It is true that the times have changed and the old mind-set or sentimentality does not exist in today’s world. Besides, the policies of both countries are mainly driven by pragmatic and economic considerations. Although differences arise over certain issues on a few occasions, the overall parallelism in the Indo-Russian relationship definitely symbolizes the trust that still exists between them. Both countries pay considerable value to this strategic partnership, which has reached a stage where closeness with any other country would not make much of a difference to the partnership.

In what ways is the Central Asia significant for India?

Central Asia had been historically a zone of India’s civilisational influence. Historically, India has had close contacts with five Central Asian States of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Interactions between India and Central Asian States had begun since the time of the Sakas or the Scythians. The Sakas had originally inhabited around Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan and later expanded southward to establish the Indo-Scythian kingdom in the second century BC. Intense contact took place through Indian traders who visited Fergana Valley to trade along the Silk Route. Central Asian in return received a stream of philosophical ideas especially the influence of Buddhism from India to Central Asia and beyond.

The Silk Route that passed through Central Asia had notably served as cultural and commercial contact points between India and Central Asia. The archaeological finds of Buddhist complexes in the Chu Valley and the Semirech’e region are indication of the historical links that existed between India and Central Asia. The ancient towns of Suyab and Navaket that had formed important trading points on the Silk Route has strong historical linkages with ancient institutions of learning in India. The Buddhist sites located around Tokmak (Ak-Beshim and Krasnaya Rechka), and in the vicinity of Bishkek (Novo-pakrovka and Novo pavlovka) were linked to Buddhist centres in Kashmir. History is full of friendly interactions among Indians and the Central Asians through movement of people, goods and ideas, including spiritual interface that were not without advantage to our common heritage. Since the emergence of new Central Asian states, India has forged a strong political relationship with them. However, lack of easy connectivity has been an impediment for India’s in-roads into the region.

Since the independence of five Central Asian States in 1991, India was among the first to establish diplomatic relations will all the five Central Asian Nations in 1992; the resident Mission of India was set up in all the five States. Political ties with the Central Asian Republic have been traditionally warm and friendly.

The developments in Central Asia potentially engage India’s security concerns. The struggle against terrorism and attempts to stabilise Afghanistan will always remain a challenge. The Afghan stabilising process may have unexpected consequences too for the Central Asian states. All the Central Asian States and India share common concerns on threat of terrorism, extremism and drug–trafficking. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations India and Central Asian countries have signed several framework agreements on culture, trade and economic cooperation, civil aviation, investment promotion and protection etc. At the institutional level, foreign office consultations have provided a useful forum for exchange of views on bilateral and international issues, the two countries signed agreement for co-operation and investments in mineral exploration & development in the food processing sector, in chemical & petrochemical sector, in the information technology sector, in healthcare sector, in science & technology, in tourism, in education, in sports & culture.

What can be done to bolster the economic relations with these countries?

India’s trade with Central Asia is very low and remained stagnant over the years. Indian investments to Central Asia have not been forthcoming for various reasons. Firstly, Central Asian States lacks the investment climate. Secondly, the banking system and financial institutions are not developed for attracting FDI and repatriation of profits. Thirdly, the present visa regime of Central Asia also puts up numerous obstacles for travelling Indian businessmen. Fourthly, frequent changes in the government formation are yet another problem for the investors. Though few Indian companies have entered the manufacturing sectors, but their success is yet to be seen.However, the initiation of Green Corridor by India, Russia and Iran known as International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a significant regional transport corridor project trying to revive the Silk Road connectivity connecting east with the west and linking the Central Asian countries by rail, ship and by road ways for moving freight from South Asia through Central Asia, Russia to Europe. INSTC is expected to improve the linkages and increase the regional cooperation. INSTC will help in connecting India-Central Asia through transport corridors focusing on the possible regional integration.

Technical assistance under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, particularly in terms of Human Resources Development (HRD), is the corner-stone of India’s economic involvement in Central Asia.

Since independence, Central Asia has been in a state of inevitable dilemma of nation-building. The countries had been trying to follow what it termed as a “multi-vector” foreign policy, but in reality it had to pursue a conventional approach to go along with Russian choice of policy direction. It had been proved more than once that for Central Asian States the so called multi-vector foreign policy, which essentially entailed manipulation of ties with Russia, USA, China, and other key countries in the region became unsustainable. Realising its vulnerability to external pressure, Central Asian States had explored all options aimed at greater flexibility in external conduct. Central Asian States became a member of many important multilateral forums like UN, OSCE, SCO, OIC, CSTO, ECO, IMF, World Bank, ADB, EBRD, CAREC, and CASA-100 and others.  India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy aims to achieve goals of becoming closer to Central Asian states by various means being its extended neighbour.

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