Testing times for India-Russia ties

With 20 agreements worth billions of dollars signed in one day, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India was a productive one. The deals touched most of the fields India and Russia cooperate on, from oil, energy and infrastructure to military training, even as the two countries set a bilateral trade target of $30 billion between them by the year 2025. What is more, the opening of India’s rough-diamond procurement policy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will mean Mumbai can dream of becoming a worldwide hub for the industry. Finally, President Putin’s offer of 12 nuclear reactors is the clearest and most welcome indicator yet that Russia does not share the concerns of other suppliers about India’s liability laws. However, there is no denying that the old lustre of the India-Russia friendship has dimmed somewhat, and many of the affirmations in the “Druzba-Dosti” joint statement of friendship they issued seem problematic. Even before his arrival in Delhi, President Putin’s decision to decline the offer to address a joint session of Parliament indicated that all is not well in the relationship. The problems seem evident: Russia has watched with displeasure as India has diversified its military imports, especially when it comes to helicopter and aircraft purchases.

The slide is not recent, and last year a senior Russian official had made the country’s displeasure clear when he demanded India treat Russia as an “old partner”, calling the decision to buy fighter aircraft and missiles from France, the U.S. and Israel “illogical and unfair”. For its part, India was outraged by the Russian decision to lift its embargo on defence sales to Pakistan, and the first-ever Russia-Pakistan framework agreement that was finalised last month. Given that India still maintains about 70 per cent of its defence inventory from Russian hardware, and is one of Russia’s biggest buyers, the unhappiness on both sides may not change the equations of dependence between them, but it must be addressed. In this context, it is significant that Mr. Modi said the relationship with Russia would remain India’s “closest relationship” and it would be the “most important defence partner”. It is increasingly important for New Delhi and Moscow to reassure each other in spheres other than the commercial ones of defence, energy and trade. Given Russia’s growing isolation from the West, and India’s growing closeness to the U.S. — President Barack Obama’s visit is coming up in January 2015 — their relationship is bound to be challenged in many ways. The U.S. State Department’s statement criticising the India-Russia deals gives a glimpse of those challenges already, and the assurance in Mr. Modi’s tweet will likely be tested further in the coming months: “Times have changed, our friendship has not...”

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 11:34:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/testing-times-for-indiarussia-ties/article6686788.ece

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