New Delhi: As India and Russia mark 70 years of diplomatic relations, a report on the state of ties between the two nations brought out by two think tanks calls for a major revamp of the engagement between the once-close partners.
Prepared by New Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation and Moscow-headquartered Russian International Affairs Council, the report calls for increased interaction at the ministerial and bureaucratic levels throughout the year, rather than confining dialogue to an annual summit between the Russian and Indian leaderships. India and Russia have been having regular bilateral summits between the Russian president and the Indian prime minister since 2000.
The report also calls for a three-way talks between Russia, India and the US besides Russia, India and Israel to increase the ambit of cooperation. India and Russia already have a trilateral arrangement with China.
On terrorism and religious extremism, the paper calls for the two countries to support each other more closely and visibly. It also calls for the two countries to collaborate in third countries—such as those in India’s neighbourhood like Nepal and on Russia’s periphery like the Central Asian Republics.
“India is Russia’s longstanding and reliable partner. However the current model of ties has largely exhausted itself and cooperation should be taken to a qualitatively new level,” says the report released in Moscow last month.
“Giving a new impetus to Moscow-New Delhi relations would allow Russia to diversify its efforts in Asia. It is necessary for India and Russia to prevent third countries from exerting significant influence on their bilateral ties,” it said. The latter could be a reference to India’s concerns of Russia’s ties with New Delhi’s strategic rival China casting a shadow over Moscow-New Delhi relations. New Delhi also views Moscow’s recent reaching out to India’s arch rival Pakistan as a subset of Russia-China ties.
In the case of Russia, Moscow has been worried about the growing warmth in India-US ties.
Once seen as closer to the former Soviet Union, India’s ties with the US have undergone a dramatic change in recent years, with Washington emerging as a key source of military hardware for India. New Delhi also has close to three dozen dialogues with Washington—unthinkable during the Cold War years when the US was seen as a major ally of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the once close India-Russia ties have developed signs of strain with Moscow’s growing ties with Islamabad. Once seen as being on the same page over the threat posed by the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Afghanistan, India and Russia now have differences on the subject with Moscow seemingly more worried about the threat posed by the Islamic State than Taliban.
According to the report, “an imperfect legal framework, tariff and non-tariff trade limitations, the lack of up-to-date information on political processes in both countries; the low level of business contacts; and the outdated images of both Russia and India their citizens have” are some of the impediments standing in the way of a new partnership between the two nations.
“It is important to further expand Russia-India engagement on the international arena,” it said, urging Russia “to continue to actively support India’s claim for greater participation in international affairs,” particularly in reforming the United Nations Security Council.
On international connectivity projects, the report said that Russia and India “have a geopolitical interest in actively promoting the North-South Corridor through Iran so that connectivity projects in the region get diversified and single-country domination is avoided.” The latter is seen as a reference to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative that aims to connect around 60 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. The North-South Corridor, on the other hand, is an ambitious multimodal transport system established in 2000 by Iran, Russia and India to connect the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea through Iran and then onwards to St Petersburg and northern Europe through Russia.
To strengthen economic linkages between the two countries, “it is necessary to set out mutually acceptable business conditions, stimulate investment flows and greenlight mutual investments,” the report said.
On defence collaboration, the report said “it is important to secure and consolidate new trends in the development of military-technical cooperation and, first and foremost, to transition from the “seller–buyer” model to large-scale joint breakthrough projects.”
“Russia should actively participate in India’s Make in India programme in defence manufacturing, with more technology transfers, as that would consolidate Russia’s dominant position as India’s defence partner,” it added.