However successful the defence relationship between India and Russia, it is not enough in the modern world to sustain a truly strategic partnership – one that provides each other with greater strategic space to deal with the challenges of the new emerging geopolitical world order.
The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s recent visit is further evidence of the growing upward momentum in Indo-Russian relations. This was the third trip to India this year by the Russian official in-charge of the Military-Industrial Complex. However, Rogozin’s visit this time was related more to the Indo-Russian Joint Commission meeting than military matters, although these undoubtedly would have been discussed in his meetings with India’s national security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval. Rogozin along with Sushma Swaraj, India’s Foreign Minister, is a co-Chair of the India-Russia Joint Commission. During his visit, Rogozin also met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The Co-Chairs of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) met in New Delhi on December 23. The Co-Chairs reviewed the current state of Indo-Russian relations with particular focus on economic matters.
Between Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific: India’s New Geopolitics
India’s decision to join a renewed quadrilateral security dialogue with the United States, Japan and Australia on the margins of the East Asia Summit in November 2017 has raised many political eyebrows around the world. Is India abandoning its tradition of non-alignment and tilting towards the United States and the West? Is Delhi tempted by President Donald Trump’s new geopolitical construct, Indo-Pacific?
The official statement at the end of the meeting stressed that the two leaders noted “the impressive growth of 22% in bilateral trade” in the past six months. Apart from that, the two sides considered the progress on issues concerning the most significant aspects of our bilateral economic cooperation such as trade, economy, investment, industry, energy, transport, agriculture and space.
The two leaders also agreed on some action points that included:
• Raising the level of the Joint Working Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation to that of Deputy Minister level.
• Creating a mechanism to discuss and remove any barriers to trade.
• Creation of a Working Group on Agriculture.
• Creation of a Working Group on Pharmaceuticals.
• Agreement to actively promote inter-regional cooperation, which has a significant untapped potential for cooperation.
• The decision to expedite implementation of the Green Corridor for the exchange of pre-arrival data between Customs Administrations of the two countries.
It is interesting that Rogozin’s visits this year are akin to bookends for a year of intensive political exchanges – he was the first high-level Russian official to visit in January and the last to visit in December this year. In all, there have been a dozen high-level visits to India by Russian leaders and over two dozen visits to Russia by Indian ministers and officials. The significant boost to bilateral exchanges can be gauged from the fact that this is probably the first time in many years that the Indian Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and National Security Advisor have visited Russia twice each in the same calendar year.
But these dry statistics of increased trade, investment and bilateral high-level visits while significant in themselves are also signs that the two countries have begun taking energetic steps to revitalise the relationship. This is probably a reflection of the view that however successful the defence relationship, even if indirectly backed up with a deep engagement in civil nuclear energy, it is not enough in the modern world to sustain a truly strategic partnership – one that provides each other with greater strategic space to deal with the challenges of the new emerging geopolitical world order.
The two sides also appear to comprehend that even the “main pillar” of the relationship the military-technical relationship faces many challenges. The Russian side is deeply concerned with the direction of India’s efforts to diversify its military procurements and collaborations. The Indian side has its set of grievances about some high-profile joint development projects and the “never-ending problem” with the supply of spares.
However, if the potential for development of defence ties is fully harnessed, then these impediments pale into insignificance. Russia could contribute to India’s development story if it would help India significantly expand its manufacturing capabilities advanced defence platforms including submarines, particularly nuclear-powered. The two countries could also consider joint manufacturing of weapons systems for export to third countries.
Meanwhile, the discussions during Rogozin’s visit would have stressed with satisfaction the progress in bilateral ties made in 2017. But the leaders of the two countries would have also noted that there is a need not only to boost the current positive momentum in ties but that there is potential to significantly enhance the tempo.