N. Ram

High expectations from Manmohan Singh’s Russian visit

Summit likely to reveal a good deal about the direction of the UPA government’s strategic and foreign policy

M.K. Narayanan dismisses media reports about a ‘chill’ in relationship with Russia as baseless

Moscow: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the Russian Federation could turn out to be the most significant and revealing that he will be undertaking this year, notwithstanding its brevity and the lack of media hype. The duration of the visit will be exactly 28 hours, from the Sunday welcome ceremony to the departure ceremony Monday evening.

Politically, the trend and outcome of this annual bilateral summit with President Vladimir Putin and the meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov are likely to reveal a good deal about the direction of, and current thinking about, the United Progressive Alliance government’s strategic and foreign policy. The expectation is that it will rise to the occasion and demonstrate to the world and to political India that it is not a one-trick pony – obsessed with the 123 nuclear cooperation agreement as an integral part of a strategic partnership with the United States. If this expectation is met, the outcome of the visit could be politically advantageous to the United Progressive Alliance government in the domestic political arena: it will be able to counter the impression that its foreign policy is no longer genuinely non-aligned and independent.

As expected, Prime Minister Singh, in his present inward-looking, contemplative frame of mind and preoccupation with the nuclear issue, was not available for the customary pre-visit press conference on board special flight Air India One. The pre-visit, onboard briefing was done by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and they were completely on top of the facts and issues while highlighting the quality, depth, and dependability of the long-term Indo-Russian relationship. In sum, they characterised it as something unique, without parallel in international relations: “a seamless relationship … without any difficulties or troubles or wrinkles” over a 60 year period during which Russia, India, and the world have changed profoundly. Mr. Narayanan was emphatic in dismissing Indian media reports about a ‘chill’ in the relationship as baseless and, in fact, over the top.

Aside from defence supplies, energy and space cooperation, and doing something about the unimpressive level of bilateral trade – the target being set for two-way trade by 2010 is an unambitious $10 billion – two major and politically sensitive issues that will figure during this visit are India’s quest for international civilian nuclear supplies and cooperation and Iran.

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