Re-engagement between Russia and India
28 December, 2005
By Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Russian Federation from December 4 to December 7 2005. During this visit, he held summit level talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and also met other top leaders of the country. The primary focus of this four day visit was on enhancing and developing an Indo-Russian nuclear cooperation, energy partnership, and defense collaboration. At the end of his Russian visit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated: "The main theme of my visit to Russia was to prompt a comprehensive re-engagement between our two countries. We all know about the backdrop of a close and broad-based relationship between India and Russia that has encompassed a variety of fields. In recent years however it seemed that the sense of there being new potential to discover or new ground to measure was no longer as evident." It seems a pragmatic approach by the Indian ruling elite in the aftermath of the Indo-US strategic cooperation. This would not only keep the Indian option for the Russian military hardware and nuclear technology alive, but also pressurize the Bush Administration to ensure the Congress ratification for Indo-US nuclear deal. In addition, this re-engagement would facilitate India’s strategic adventurism in the Central Asia.
India has been trying to maintain its cordial relations with the Russian Federation since the end of Cold War. The strategic partnership between India and United States has little impact on the bilateral relations of the former and Russia. The Russian Federation is still the leading supplier of military hardware to Indian Armed Forces. India, for example, has bought more than US$30 billion worth of Soviet and Russian arms since 1960. In recent years, it has been second only to China as a buyer of Russian weaponry. For cementing bilateral relations between India and Russia the following this year Indians high ups visits to Russia were important. They were:
* Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow from May 8-10, 2005 to participate in the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Victory Day,
when he held bilateral talks with President Putin.
* President A P J Abdul Kalam paid a state visit to the Russian Federation from May 20-25, 2005.
* Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress and Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance paid a visit to Russia as a guest of President Putin from June 12-16, 2005.
* Former Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Oil and petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and National Security Advisor M K Narayanan have also visited Russia this year.
Military cooperation figured prominently in Prime Minister Singh`s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during this month visit. They agreed on other issues such as: the Intellectual Property Rights on Defense Agreement; Amendment to the Protocol on Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation for the period till 2010; Technology Safeguards Agreement regarding GLONASS and accord on solar physics. Importantly, Moscow had offered to sell several long-range Tu-22M3 bombers to New Delhi. The Soviet-designed Tu-22M3 is capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles at almost twice the speed of sound.
This bomber would significantly bolster New Delhi`s strike capability deep inside the adversary’s territory. They also discussed the option to work together on a next-generation fighter jet and a medium-range transport aircraft.
Another highlight of the recent visit was a resolve by both Russia and India to intensify ties in all sectors of civil nuclear cooperation. In fact, Indian is very much keen in receiving nuclear fuel from nuclear supplier states. It is because, it has virtually run out of nuclear fuel needed for the Tarapore and a few of its other nuclear power plants. No member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group is prepared to give India the nuclear fuel because of the US restrictions on it after the May 1998 nuclear weapons tests at Pokharan. With oil prices soaring to astronomical heights and limited thermal and hydroelectric resources, India has no choice but to develop nuclear energy. This requires the import of nuclear fuel which India could get from the United States, provided its Congress approved the Indo-US deal. On July 18, 2005 Bush Administration announced civil nuclear cooperation with India, yet the United States Congress approval is awaited till the writing of these lines. The approval of the United States Congress would effectively grant India highly sought-after access to sensitive nuclear technology only accorded to states in full compliance with global nonproliferation standards. It would also treat India in much the same way as the five original nuclear-weapon states by exempting it from meaningful international nuclear inspections. It is a virtual endorsement of India’s nuclear weapons status. This endorsement has been not well received in certain circles of Washington. The nuclear non-proliferation lobby is very active to sabotage this deal. There is a possibility that the nuclear deal between India and the United States would be derailed. Therefore, India is now also working on the second option that is Russian Federation.
The Russian seems prepared to assist India in the nuclear field. During the recent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visit the Chief of Russia`s Federal Atomic Energy Agency endorsed expansion of nuclear cooperation with New Delhi, including in the development of new generation reactors. "We highly value India` s impeccable track record in non-proliferation, as well as its intention to extend IAEA safeguards on nuclear fuel cycle," Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) chief Sergei Kiriyenko said.
Importantly, according to the Nuclear Supplier Group guideline, India doesn’t qualify to receive nuclear assistance from the Russian Federation because the comprehensive safeguards of International Atomic Energy Agency are missing at its nuclear activities and facilities. Ironically, like Washington, Moscow also believed that India has good track record in non-proliferation and Russian assistance would not undermine the nuclear non-proliferation regime objectives.
The Indian-Russian relations have continuity and stability. Russia played a key role in building India’s defense and industrial infrastructure. The recent India’s closeness with United States indicates that in its new strategic outlook the United States is more significant than Russian Federation. But the Indians also understand that complete reliance on the United States would make it vulnerable in the future. Moreover, the Indians strategic interest in Central Asian States, especially in Tajikistan requires its cordial relations with Moscow. Actually, India has already established its first-ever military outpost on foreign soil at Farkhor, about 10 km outside Tajikistan capital Dushanbe. The base became operational last year. It was also reported both the Russians and Indians are likely to share the Aini airbase in Tajikistan, which is being modernized by Indian Air Force technical personnel. The acquisition of the military bases in Tajikistan, certainly, has given Indian armed forces a longer strategic reach. To be precise, these strategic and economic interests compel India to sustain and enhance its relations with the Russian Federation.