Asia Pacific | News Analysis
China is a friend, but a giant and possibly a threatening one, inclined to use Russia’s vulnerabilities to its advantage. Japan was becoming friendlier, but it joined the West in its campaign of economic sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, and a planned visit by Mr. Putin was scrapped in November. The same month, after being browbeaten over Ukraine at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Australia, Mr. Putin left before the event officially ended.
As recently as July, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, reassured Mr. Putin that nothing had changed.
“Ask any child in India who is India’s best friend internationally, and they will tell you that it is Russia,” he said.
Still, Mr. Putin’s 22-hour visit comes amid some uncertainty in the old relationship. The new decision makers in New Delhi say they are less interested in geopolitics than in jump-starting the economy as fast as possible. With its own economy swooning, Russia is unlikely to offer game-changing investment or trade agreements. And it is not the only world power vying for India’s attention. China’s president visited for two days in September, and President Obama will attend Republic Day celebrations in January.
President Vladimir V. Putin Credit Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Russia has already begun to worry that it will lose its advantage as the dominant arms supplier to India, a point that was underlined recently when Moscow sent a Defense Ministry delegation to visit India’s rival, Pakistan.
In New Delhi, Mr. Modi and Mr. Putin will try to reinvigorate their countries’ ties with a long list of possible projects, including deals to export Russian diamonds to India for polishing, build nuclear reactors in India, strike a long-term fixed-price oil contract and construct an oil and gas pipeline between the two nations.
Over the long term, however, many of those around Mr. Modi have come to see the relationship with Russia as “stagnant,” said C. Raja Mohan, a policy analyst with the Observer Research Foundation, a policy research group based in New Delhi.
“There are two or three generations of diplomats who have found Russia to be India’s” most loyal ally, he said. “But ask Modi’s Gujarati friends, and they say, ‘Where’s the beef?’ They are looking for business. There is no real business there.”
The Russian and Indian leaders are said to get along well. Both grew up poor, and both arrived in their capitals as outsiders, suspicious of the entrenched elites surrounding them. Each projects self-discipline and toughness, which helped win the confidence of publics craving order and international standing.
“Both are self-confident, a little bit assertive leaders, who are nationalist — let’s not get that wrong,” said Ajai Malhotra, who was India’s ambassador to Russia until last year.
Mr. Modi’s team is said to be less reflexively pro-Russian than the administration it has replaced. Still when Mr. Modi took power in June, he stuck with the previous government’s decision to refrain from criticizing Russia over Ukraine. That has sent an important message to Mr. Putin’s domestic audience, allaying the fear that he has led Russia into overdependence on China.
Indian statements on the conflict in Ukraine have been studiously neutral, and some officials have gone further, expressing support for Russia’s view. In July, Western leaders excoriated Russia over the downing of a civilian aircraft over eastern Ukraine, suggesting that it was the work of separatists wielding a Russian-supplied missile. But India held back and was unwilling to join a campaign of economic sanctions.
“We would never support sanctions against a country that has been friendly and supportive of us and whom we regard as a strategic partner,” Mr. Malhotra said. Until the official inquiry into the cause of the crash is completed, he added, “all theories have to be considered conspiratorial.”
Much of the discussion this week will center on the arms trade, where Russia faces rising competition. Russia’s ambassador to India, Aleksandr Kadakin, told reporters in New Delhi that Russia was keenly aware that President Obama will be discussing many of the same issues when he visits in six weeks.
In the five years ended in 2013, Russia accounted for 75 percent of India’s arms imports, and the United States for only 7 percent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Resource Center. But the trajectory of Russia’s sales is downward, and Indian officials have complained about cost overruns and equipment malfunctions.
If Russia has an advantage in winning Indian business, it is that it is “ready to share extremely sensitive strategic technologies,” said Pyotr Topychkanov, an associate in the nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Though India may be interested in purchases from the United States and Israel, he said, “no one from these countries is ready to codevelop nuclear submarines.” That trust, he said, will become increasingly important as China builds up its military.
“I can’t tell you what the relations between Russia and China will be in 20 years,” he said. “In fact, in the Asian region, we have only one trusted partner, which is India.”
Partners in arms, energy, tech: Putin for deeper ties with India
Pramit Pal Chaudhari , Hindustan Times New Delhi, December 10, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin has outlined a vision of a transformed Indo-Russian relationship with a deeper level of partnership. This could see joint development of advanced weapons, cooperation in hi-tech areas ranging from nuclear power to space, and New Delhi benefiting from Moscow’s plans to be Asia’s “reliable” energy supplier.
In an email interview with HT on the eve of his first state visit to India, Putin spoke of New Delhi as a “reliable and time-tested partner” and how this “trust” could be converted into something greater.
This will be Putin’s third meeting with PM Narendra Modi, having met him before at the BRICS summit in Brazil and the G-20 summit in Australia. Putin spoke of his “satisfaction” at the Modi government’s “commitment” to seeking “new promising areas of cooperation”.
Putin outlined steps to strengthen the “privileged strategic partnership”. On the problems Russia faces following the global oil price crash and the impact of Western sanctions, he said “we will devote particular attention to expanding trade and economic links, and boosting mutual investments”.
The closeness of the two countries “allows us to start a gradual transition from the traditional producer-consumer model to joint development and production of advanced weapon systems”. He cited the success of the BrahMos cruise missile and the potential in the fifth-generation fighter project. If military ties are to be transformed, he said, they would be “completely different kind of transformations”.
Putin skirted the issue of Russia’s signing a military agreement with Pakistan, saying the two countries had “held talks” on Russian help for counter-terrorism and anti-drug operations. He insisted this would serve the “long-term interests” of all countries, including India.
“We expect to secure ourselves the role of a reliable energy supplier to Asian markets”, he said and spoke of attracting Indian investment and technology. Citing the successful Sakhalin 1 gas project in Siberia, he said Russian firms were “actively discussing” with OVL the possibility of the Indian state-owned firm’s participation in Arctic oil and gas exploration. Putin poured cold water on proposals for a pipeline between Russia and India, questioning its “commercial feasibility.” He said natural gas was already being shipped.
Listing the “joint strategic projects” he mentioned nuclear power plants, sales of the civilian Sukhoi Superjet 100 and MS-21 aircraft, and introducing the Glonass system – a Russian rival to GPS – to “sectors of the Indian economy.” Putin said he expected deals on a butyl rubber plant, helicopter manufacturing, creating ‘smart city’ and tractor assembly. “Our resources enable us to build up to 25 [nuclear] energy units in India,” he said, and that Russia was awaiting land to be allotted for a new reactor outside the Kudankulam cluster.
Bilateral trade between India and Russia had fallen 10% to $ 9 billion in the past year. “It is important to reverse this trend”. Putin expressed confidence in the resilience of Indo-Russian relations. “Regardless of political and public leaders, our countries remained reliable partners in deepening our multifaceted bilateral cooperation,” he said.
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