India and Russia share a long-history of diplomatic ties and have successfully completed 70 years of this bilateral engagement. In an interview with the Diplomatist, Ambassador of Russia to India, H.E. Nikolay Kudashev, talks about this age-old friendship along with highlighting potential areas of cooperation between India and Russia.
Q. The year 2017 marked the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and India. It’s also the eve of the Diplomats’ Day in Russia. Can you please share with us your assessment of last year’s bilateral interactions between the two countries and Diplomats’ Day in question?
First and foremost, let me emphasize that political ties between our countries are one of a kind, rich in substance and unique in terms of mutual trust and affinity. It is important to note that in accordance with the “Roadmap of the Events dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India (April 13, 1947 – April 13, 2017)”, adopted in Goa by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016, throughout the last year dozens of various events have been organized in both countries. It can be exemplified by the fact that New Delhi, Mumbai and Panjim hosted the “Russian Film Days in India” festival with the presence of a world-famous Bollywood actress, MP Hema Malini, as well as Indian actor, producer and director Randhir Kapoor. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited St. Petersburg to take part in the Annual Bilateral Summit, which has been held uninterruptedly since 2000, and participated in St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as a Guest of Honour. I would like to emphasize that all members of the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security travelled to Russia last year. That is what provides an unfailing proof of relevance and dynamism of Russia – India relations.
It comes as no surprise that we have a strong diplomatic presence in India and long-standing traditions of friendship. We have successfully introduced a new one – to celebrate on February 10 our professional holiday – the Diplomats’ Day, which embraces not only diplomats as such, but everyone who works in the diplomatic service. We have started to celebrate this Day in the Russian offi cial calendar since it was established on October 31, 2002, by a special decree of the President of Russia marking the respect our country has for the diplomatic workers. In historical perspective on this very date, February 10, 1549, the fi rst Russian foreign service institute – the Posolsky Prikaz – was mentioned in the chronicle.
Q. India and Russia have set a target of $30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025 for which it is important to have a free trade agreement between the two countries. What do you have to say on this?
It is important to note that our economic cooperation, specifi cally trade turnover, has been considerably lagging behind our vibrant political dialogue. With the set target to reach 30 bn in trade and 15 bn in investments by 2025, we spare no effort in devising new ways of spurring economic activity and encouraging investors.
I am happy to note that the Eurasian Economic Union, which comprises of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, have already launched negotiations with India on FTA.
As for a few promising areas that may become true growth drivers, they are 1) Construction of new nuclear power plants in India as well as joint NPP projects in third countries.The fi rst such project is on the anvil with NPP Ruppur in Bangladesh, where Russia is contributing in terms of equipment supply while India may provide technical assistance and training. 2) Unleashing the potential of small and medium businesses in order to boost mutual investment. In this regard, I am convinced that with the investment protection agreement back in place, our countries will be able to boost up economic cooperation even more. 3) Interregional cooperation: Last March, India saw a visit of a high-ranking delegation from the Russian Far East, which was reciprocated by a representative Indian offi cial and business delegation led by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September. We are also very enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by numerous regional investment and business forums held in various Indian regions and showcasing their potential. “Vibrant Gujarat” as a pioneer in this sphere has become a major investment attraction platform in its own right and we see more coming. Frequent and well-prepared business missions and roadshows will increase awareness about the potential of Russian and Indian regions and bring about much-required dynamism.
Q. Moscow is apparently opposed to the quadrilateral grouping comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia citing a “bloc arrangement” not conducive for a sustainable security architecture in the Asia Pacifi c region. Would you like to shed some light on it?
As you are aware, Russia is geographically located in both Europe and Asia. That is why we have an active, creative role in Asia-Pacifi c region. It is important to understand that we are not engaged in building a “balance of force” to suit us, but we strive to develop a system of inter-state relations in the region that would guarantee stability and general prosperity.
Proceeding from that vision, Russia believes that achievement of the inclusive and sustainable security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region should avoid alienation lines and “blocking” psychology, which could lead to pernicious consequences, including undermining the principle of the central role of ASEAN in promoting regional cooperation. Ultimately, we must refrain from antagonizing anyone and start learning lessons of the two world wars and “the cold war”.
That is why we are of the principled position to upgrade the dialogue on the regional security architecture in the framework of the East Asia Summit involving all its member-states, so that we would be able to effectively use this mechanism in order to fi nd collective solutions to our common challenges and threats as well as raise awareness of sensitive interests of all players.
Q. Russia’s increasing ties with Pakistan has the potential to strain bilateral relations between India and Russia. How does Russia plan to address this issue?
Moscow has already emphasized that there should be no speculation about the cooperation between Russia and Pakistan and its possible infl uence for the Russian-Indian special and privileged strategic partnership.
With India, we do enjoy and highly value the depth of our interaction, which is truly special since we are engaged with each other in an unprecedented way. Mutual trust and understanding in the political domain, including multilateral formats (the UN, BRICS, RIC), military and technical cooperation, where Russia unlike some other countries, does share with the Indian friends highly complicated and sensitive technologies. Not to forget the sphere of nuclear power, which again makes Russia the only country, which in practical terms, contributes to raising the Indian alternative energy potential and, hence, implementation of the Indian Government agenda in this area. Leave alone the decadelong strong people-to-people ties.Russia – Pakistan relations and cooperation is a separate topic for us, and I do believe that volumes and scales of this interaction is incomparable with the ones, which we have with India.
Importantly, both India and Pakistan have become full-fledged members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is the leading mechanism enabling us to expand collective efforts aimed at promoting regional economic, fi nancial, infrastructure, people-topeople and security collaboration.
As you well know, the SCO region is facing increasingly growing challenges and threats, especially terrorism and drug traffi cking, emanating fi rst of all from the highly unstable situation in Afghanistan. For this purpose in 2017, we decided to revive the “SCOAfghanistan” Contact Group.
Our agenda is broad and covers even those issues, which are not practically addressed in some other formats aimed at supporting the national reconciliation and the peace process in Afghanistan. Capacity building of the Afghan defence and security forces in tackling problems of terrorism and drug traffi cking as well as more inclusive involvement of Afghanistan in the SCO activities are of utmost importance to our cooperation. Particularly, as a new initiative it was also agreed upon implementation of various SCO projects in the country including but not limited to the spheres of social and economic development, education, infrastructure, industry, agriculture. It would help to ensure Afghani integration in regional cooperation.
By the way, the issue of fi ghting drug traffi cking, which is widely considered as having direct link to the problem of terrorism in Afghanistan, is one of the major agenda items in the SCO. During all time of its functioning, the organization has accumulated relevant rich and comprehensive experience by introducing specific mechanisms of cooperation between special governmental bodies in charge of defence and international security, including joint exercises. This component in a detailed way, as we can see, is missing, for example, in some other countries’ approaches towards cooperation in the region.
Russia argues the merits of the inclusive approach – the SCO-led cooperation with the participation of all neighbouring countries, for which issues of instability in Afghanistan represent direct challenges and threats for national security, is of crucial importance. We highly appreciate the Indian support in this regard.
It comes as no surprise that the task of collective tackling the regional challenges and threats require involvement of all our countries’ potential. That is why Moscow believes that it is very important to maintain contacts with Pakistan too in order to make this country more engaged in regional cooperation as well as raise its awareness of benefi ts from the participation in the SCO activities.
Q. With Asia-Pacifi c becoming a signifi cant intersection for future economic growth, what steps can India and Russia take to work together in this region to bring about stability given the ongoing territorial disputes?
As I have already mentioned, our cooperation in the Asia-Pacifi c should be channeled to prioritizing a collective approach to the regional issues. That region is increasingly becoming an epicenter of the world economic and political activities, and this is another reason why we have to handle it carefully by promoting dialogue mechanisms in order to solve various problems in a most efficient way.
India is one of our most important partners in the Asia- Pacifi c, and we cherish the level of our mutual understanding and cooperation already established with regard to our involvement in the activities of the multilateral bodies such as the East Asia Summits, ASEAN Regional Forum, “ADMM+”. We also believe that India should play a bigger role in the regional affairs, and we are very supportive of the Indian intention to become a member of APEC.
Our approach to the territorial disputes between other parties is based on the principle of non-interference unless we are requested to be involved by all sides.
Q. Russia is the largest supplier of defence equipment (70%) to India but its share in overall imports has progressively declined. Is this a cause of concern for Russia given India’s growing defence engagement with the US?
Let me stress that our bilateral military and technical cooperation, which goes back to the fi rst decades of the Indian independence, is also undergoing qualitative transformation refl ecting the realities and requirements of the modern day. First and foremost, we are actively moving away from the outdated “buyer-seller” approach towards new mutually benefi cial mechanisms. The format of Military Industrial Conferences launched last March is aimed at promoting substantially different mode of interaction involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence systems. In this respect, the ambitious “Make in India” initiative offers unlimited opportunities, with engagement of Indian private defence manufactures being another new feature, and we are very much determined to build up on our previous experience of fruitful cooperation in joint production and to participate in the most active way. The signing of the agreement on manufacturing Russian helicopters Ka-226T in India in 2016 represents an important step in this direction.
Q. Do you see Russia involving in a greater engagement with India with the opening up of the International North- South Trade Corridor (INST)?
Logistic accessibility is a very important factor for the trade relationship between our countries. The implementation of the initiative of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is really important for Russia when we are talking about how to increase our trade and economic linkages with India. However, it has the obvious regional dimension as well, since it would enhance trade and transit connectivity between South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, Caucasia and Europe.
As far as I know, the process of infrastructure development under the INSTC is almost completed, and we need to think about how to realize its potential effectively. There are proposals to use satellite technologies as well as increase customs cooperation in order to ensure smooth and expedited transportation of goods. Let us see, the work is going on. In this respect, I may say there is much potential in full operationalization of the INSTC and launch of the “green corridor” facilitating customs formalities.
Q. How does Russia look at the possibility of India joining the One Belt One Road initiative?
It is up to India to decide whether to join the OBOR or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or not.
I would like to remind you the remarks made by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his visit in New Delhi recently to participate in the RIC meeting in December.While responding to the question related to the OBOR, he clearly stated that this initiative is a broad project, which involves many regions. The SCO area is almost covered by it, and the member-states are already implementing various agreements with China under the OBOR.
Q. Commercialization of the vast technological achievements of Soviet and Russian scientists has always been an issue. In this regard, do you see an economic partnership between the two countries for helping Russian companies bring their innovations to the market?
Economic relations between Russia and India have a very long history that obviously shows us that state-ofthe- art technologies transferring from the USSR or Russia to India is a basis for our cooperation. Even now, we can see successfully operating industrial plants, agricultural farms, and infrastructure objects implemented in India with the assistance of the USSR. Bokaro, Bhilai Steel Plants, Calcutta Metro, Suratgarh Farm and many others objects were constructed with modern technologies. Nowadays, Russia- India projects in the spheres of nuclear power, civil aviation, defence etc., are based on the state-of-the-art technologies also. We do believe our economic partnership is a provider of innovations for research and development to implementation.
Q. With India and Russia completing 70 years of diplomatic ties, how do you see the future of Indo-Russian bilateral relations?
As historically time-tested friends, Russia and India are well positioned to further build up mutually benefi cial strategic cooperation in future. Dynamically changing global and regional landscape needs to be refl ected by our growing partnership based on mutual understanding and trust.
It is our common goal to continue, amid undiminishing tendencies of international uncertainty and geopolitical engineering, our dedicated efforts to strengthen the central role of the United Nations, democratization of global governance, respect for international law and multipolarity, unacceptability of interference into domestic affairs as well as double standards and unilateral approaches to solving problems, including by unlawful sanctions. Along with that, when we deal with various regional crises, it is important to take into account interests of all involved nations, which is critical to achieving lasting solutions, be it in Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula, etc.
Russia welcomes, hence, the straight forward desire of Moscow and New Delhi to promote our shared principles and responsibilities for maintaining international stability by working closely within multilateral fora, fi rst of all the UN-led bodies, BRICS, G20, and WTO.
With the historical Indian accession to the SCO, as a fullfledged member, as I mentioned earlier, this organization entered into a new stage of its development as a responsible player providing for a wide range of regional economic, infrastructure, energy, people-topeople and security cooperation opportunities.
Special focus in this regard will be given to eliminating new challenges and threats emanating from Afghanistan, including terrorism, drug traffi cking and religious extremism and radicalization directly linked to the national security of our countries. Peaceful settlement in this war-thorn country needs primary attention. The steps to be taken in this direction are offered by the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group with Kabul as its permanent co-chair as well as the Moscow Dialogue. Obvious advantages of both mechanisms are that they are aimed at comprehensive support to Afghanistan by shaping up relevant consensus of the regional countries, which are directly affected by instability spread from there. We are looking forward to solid Indian contribution towards this end.
Needless to say that Russia and India are among the most interested nations in terms of promoting regional connectivity. Our priority is to develop great Eurasian partnership involving a synergy of integration activities pushed forward in the framework of the SCO, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and ASEAN. Start of negotiations between India and the EEU is on our immediate agenda. In this connection, I am delighted to announce that January 1 saw entering into force of a renewed EEU Customs Code, which will considerably simplify and expedite customs procedures for the memberstates. The above mentioned North-South Transport Corridor also contributes to greater trade and transit connectivity between South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, Caucasia and Europe.
The Russian-Indian cooperation in the Asia-Pacifi c should be channeled to prioritize a collective approach to the regional issues. That region increasingly becomes an epicenter of the world economic and political activities, and this is another reason why we have to handle it carefully by promoting dialogue mechanisms in order to solve various problems in a most efficient way.
India is one of our most important partners in the Asia-Pacific, and we cherish the level of our mutual understanding and cooperation already established with regard to our involvement in the activities of the multilateral bodies such as the East Asia Summits, ASEAN Regional Forum, “ADMM+”. In our view, India should play a bigger role in the regional affairs, and Russia is very supportive of the Indian intention to become a member of APEC.
It is our principled position to upgrade the dialogue on the inclusive and undivided regional security architecture in the framework of the East Asia Summit involving all its member-states, so that we would be able to effectively use this mechanism in order to fi nd collective solutions to our common challenges and threats as well as raise awareness of sensitive interests of all players. At the same time, we should avoid creation of any alienation lines not to antagonize anyone.
To sum up, our global and regional priorities are largely coinciding or similar. Russia takes pride in our ability to have profound, open-minded, sincere and forward-looking discussions with India that, frankly speaking, not many countries are able to maintain. It is important to note that our mutual engagements are not directed against anybody else’s interests and promote unifying and constructive agenda.
Looking ahead, Russia and India have a very solid historical and institutional ground and enjoy mutual affi nity, which gives us every opportunity to continue strengthening our cooperation bilaterally and multilaterally in the near future and beyond.