- Excellency, in the wider scheme of things, how do you currently assess Indo–Russian relations?
Let me start by emphasizing the fact that political ties between our countries are one of a kind, rich in substance, and unique in terms of mutual trust and affinity. Annual bilateral summits held uninterruptedly since 2000 (the next one is set for this October in India) provide an unfailing proof of relevance and dynamism of our relations. Last month a new format of our high-level interaction— an informal summit in Sochi, which hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, became a perfect opportunity to reaffirm and redefine the long-standing cooperation between our countries.
Furthermore, what brings us together 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, hence, welcomes the straightforward desire of Moscow and New Delhi to promote our shared principles and responsibilities for maintaining international stability by working closely within multilateral fora, first of all the UN-led bodies, BRICS, the SCO, G20, and WTO.
It speaks volumes that with the historical Indian accession to SCO as a full-fledged member, this organization entered a new stage of development, as a responsible player providing for a wide range of regional economic, infrastructure, energy, people-to-people and security cooperation opportunities.
Needless to say, 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 an immediate agenda. The International 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-Pacific is a strong argument in favour of a collective approach to the regional issues. The 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-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, and “ADMM+”. In our view, India should play a bigger role in the regional affairs, and Russia is supportive of the Indian intention to become a member of APEC.
Our global and regional priorities are largely similar. Russia takes pride in our ability to have profound, open-minded, sincere and forward-looking discussions with India. It is important to note that our mutual engagements are not directed against anybody else’s interests and promote unifying and constructive agenda.
- Cooperation in peaceful use of atomic energy is apperentlyny on the agenda for both countries. How can you predict it to pan out?
First and foremost, Russian–Indian cooperation in nuclear energy marks its 30th Anniversary this year. It comes as no surprise that the construction of nuclear power plants in India is an established area of our bilateral cooperation full of mutual trust and long-term vision. While first four units of NPP Kudankulam, with two already operational and two more under construction, are subject to 20% localization, the next two units 5 and 6 will source up to 50% of locally manufactured parts and equipment. It is an excellent example of how Russian economic interests concur with the Indian domestic agenda and its requirements.
For this project being further expanded, we have offered to our Indian friends the latest generation 3-plus nuclear reactors VVER-1200 powered by advanced fuel. Besides, with the recently signed tripartite agreement involving Russia, India and Bangladesh, on cooperation in construction of NPP Ruppur, we have a promising starting point to explore with our Indian partners the markets of other third countries.
It is noteworthy that India’s state-run enterprise Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) at the ATOMEXPO conference in Sochi in May has won global recognition for the public outreach programs it has been conducting in the field of nulear power development and NPCIL Executive Director Gautam Biswas received the award for the company’s “Atom on Wheels” campaign started in 2016. It represents a close and unique interaction we have with India in nuclear sphere, which is undoubtedly mutually beneficial.
- While India has concerns abour CPEC under BRI, Russia has publically declared full support to the project. What are your views on the entire scenario?
Let me be clear–we strongly believe it is up to India to decide whether to join the OBOR or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or not. The Indian concerns regarding the BRI, particularly the CPEC project, are well known. We would like to see India and China find a mutually acceptable way to address these concerns. For this purpose, a dedicated and forward-looking dialogue between the two countries is important and it is up to the two only to deal with it.
In this regard, we welcome positive developments in the bilateral relations between India and China. Matured and responsible approach from both sides is able to contribute to the promotion of constructive partnership not only between them. It has clear projection to the situation in the Eurasian, Asia-Pacific and South Asian regions as well as cooperation in the framework of BRICS, the SCO and other important formats. Otherwise, the outside powers in their geopolitical purposes would continue to play the card of disputes between New Delhi and Beijing, fuelling distrust and instability. It is against the interests of inclusive regional dialogue.
- Russia has been the largest provider of defense technology and military equipment to India. Does the emergence of Israel and other countries on the market, that are steadily increasing defense exports to India, sound like a challenge for Russia?
Let me stress that our bilateral military and technical cooperation, which goes back to the first decades of the Indian independence, is also undergoing qualitative transformation reflecting 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 beneficial mechanisms. For example, 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.
Secondly, we have seen a recent report by SIPRI counting about 60% of military equipment, armaments and ammunition in India that are of the Russian origin, and we believe that is another solid indication of the high level of mutual trust.
Among the most remarkable examples – the JV BrahMos, which celebrates its 20th jubilee this year, represents a successful cooperation and full-fledged win-win partnership based on technology transfer, joint research and development. With the missile’s land and naval versions being already in service, the recent air version test completed the tactical cruise missile triad for India. An advanced hypersonic version, BrahMos Mark II, is under joint development. Post-sales service of aircraft carrier “Vikramaditya”; licensed production of multirole fighters Su-30MKI; modernization of fighters MiG-29, aircraft IL-76/78; licensed production of main battle tanks T-90 and artillery systems AK-630; modernization of tanks T-72, T-90, infantry combat vehicle BMP-2; supplying of ammunition for tanks, multiple launch rocket and antitank rocket systems – all these services speak volumes of the intensity of our cooperation.
In the pipeline – best in the world S-400 air defence missile systems and guided missile frigates supplies, the Fifth Generation Fighter Jet Project, the Kamov-226 T helicopters (to be also produced here under the aegis of “Make in India”), and other initiatives.
Last but not the least, we are also very proud to conduct regular large-scale military exercises with India. Our recent achievement in this regard – combined three forces drills in 2017. Again, it is something, which India also doesn’t have with any other country. For 2018 engagements in the framework of International Military-Technical Forum “ARMY-2018”, joint exercises “INDRA ARMY-2018” and “INDRA NAVY-2018” in India, “AIR INDRA-2018” in Russia are planned.
As for a growing competition for the Indian defence market between Russia and other countries this is a normal situation, especially for the Indian growing defence needs.
Russia remains committed to continue trusted relations with India in the military and technical sphere as well as to raise it to a new technological level. There are many options on the table, including joint ventures, research and development, sensitive technology sharing, localization of production, etc.
We are proud of our equipment and are not afraid of any rule-based, fair and transparent competition anywhere, especially in India, with which we enjoy special relations.
- Economic trade between the countries saw an upwards surge recently, but still hasn’t reached the desired mark beyond $10 billion. What steps are being taken, and do you think should be taken to achieve the target of $30 billion trade by 2025?
Our economic cooperation, specifically trade turnover, has been behind our vibrant political dialogue. With the set target to reach $30 billion in trade and $15 billion in investments by 2025, we spare no effort in devising new ways to spur economic activity and encourage investors. It is one of the topics discussed during the Sochi informal summit and our leaders attached utmost importance to enhancing bilateral trade.
Getting back to the figures, the year 2017 showed an inspiring trend with 21.5% increase in the turnover, making the final figure close to $10 billion. This year also started with extremely positive tendency.
As for a few promising areas that may become true growth drivers, to my mind, they are as follows:
1) Construction of new nuclear power plants in India as well as joint NPP projects in third countries. The first 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 official 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.
Hydrocarbons constitute another major area of cooperation. Last August saw the $12.9 billion acquisition of the Essar Oil Limited by the Russian Rosneft oil company together with the international consortium of investors – the largest investment deal in the history of modern India. Indian companies have made huge investments in the Russian oilfields totally amounting to $10 billion, seeking to diversify its energy basket and ensure national energy security. Such
two-way mega scale commitments contribute to greater trust, mutual understanding and aspirations.
There are a number of current projects across various sectors. The Russian Sibur company together with Reliance Industries are constructing a butyl rubber plant in Gujarat, which is to become operational in 2019. The Russian Railways are involved in the study of the Nagpur-Secunderabad high-speed train project with further plans to participate in its execution.
We also see much potential in future activities of the Russian Export Centre, a government institution aimed at facilitating Russian small and medium exporters with financial and non-financial support. It has received the permission to open its brunch in Mumbai with a separate office in New Delhi.
We believe that direct contacts in general are indispensable in terms of creating awareness of mutual opportunities and building trusted relations. Therefore, such major economic events as the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (May 24-26), INNOPROM-2018 (Ekaterinburg, July 9-12), the Eastern Economic Forum (Vladivostok, September 11-13) serve as excellent platforms for establishing and enhancing B2B and interregional cooperation contacts.
- How supportive is Russia of India gaining a permanent seat in UNSC and membership to the NSG?
Russia supports the candidacy of India for the reformed UNSC permanent membership. We fully share the objective of improving effectiveness and representation in the international body responsible for peace and security in the world. Taking into account the existing significant differences in approaches towards the reform process of the organization, we strongly believe that in order to achieve this goal there is a necessity to build the greatest possible consensus among all the interested parties and consider their views. We expect India to support 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.
As for the NSG membership, we see India as an established candidate. New Delhi has made great strides towards the development of the export control system, proved to be a responsible player in the WMD non-proliferation. We believe that Indian membership in other main export control regimes speaks for itself. With a view to ensuring the fundamental principle of the NSG, India needs to keep having dialogue with all the interested countries.
- Let’s talk about the emergence of new areas for cooperation between the countries, like deep sea exploration?
While leaning on the achievements of the past and accumulated joint experience, we spare no effort to leap forward and adapt our partnership to the ever-changing realities. Practically, in every sector of our cooperation we devise and implement new patterns and mechanisms, which reflect requirements and aspirations of both sides.
We have covered the military and technical sphere and nuclear energy cooperation with the Ruppur project in Bangladesh already setting an example of how we together can enter the markets of thirds countries with our technologies and skills, our partnership in the Arctic, and deep sea exploration. In trade and economic cooperation, we believe that better connectivity is the key, so we see much potential in ambitious projects like the
International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) – a project aimed at increasing our trade and economic linkages with India. However, it has the obvious regional dimension as well, since it would enhance trade and transit connect`ivity between South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, Caucasia, and Europe. There are proposals to use satellite technologies as well as increase customs cooperation in order to ensure smooth and expedited transportation of goods. 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. Another option is establishing Chennai to Vladivostok connectivity.
There is also enormous potential in our cooperation in joint participation in such important and XXI century oriented promising formats like BRICS and the SCO, which enjoy institutionalized structures, unifying agenda and provide plenty of opportunities for practical cooperation in many areas stretched from security issues to economic development and extended people-to-people ties. We would like to invite our Indian friends and other partners to think about the initiative of the Great Eurasian partnership combining efforts of the leading regional organizations in order to establish seamless trade and investment collaboration and goods and people’s movements by enhancing inter-regional infrastructure and linkages.
- What are Russia’s strategic objectives in the current global political order?
To put it briefly, Russia is facing a dramatically changing global environment tending to be more and more politicized, disrespectful to international law, and leading the world affairs to chaos. Although my country has not been the initiator of such tendencies, we believe that the vision in favour of cooperation, unifying agenda and respect of international law would ultimately prevail. It is important to stress that in such circumstances Russian–Indian Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership combining traditional spheres of cooperation and new areas, which are being actively explored, is one of the lighthouses making us feel more confident. Old ties of friendship and seven decades of unfailing mutual support on the most crucial issues in the international arena become even more relevant today.
New centers of economic and financial power and the related political influence are growing ever stronger and pursuing a foreign policy in their own national interests. Nobody can deny them this legitimate right. The developing countries have raised their voice to demand a fair implementation of their desires and aspirations.
It is in our common interests to add more constructive elements to the polycentric world order, so that it will facilitate the development of mutually beneficial cooperation and fruitful partnership among the key states. To attain this goal, we must abandon phobias and stereotypes, set aside our differences together with imperial and neo-colonial aspirations that are based on short-term considerations. We must learn to respect each other’s interests and find the strength to work together towards a safe and prosperous future of the humankind. In other words, we must make international relations more democratic. In this context, Russia as an independent center of political power will continue to promote a positive international agenda in the interests of global stability.
Our relations with our partners are based on international law, the central role of the UN, as well as on respect for the interests, traditions and distinctive character of all nations.
We have no need for confrontation or the arms race. However, Russia will protect its own interests, sovereignty and independence consistently and efficiently, using the instruments at its disposal. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this many times, including in the March 1 Address to the Federal Assembly.
We have been consistently advocating a broad dialogue on the priority questions, including the maintenance of all elements of strategic stability with due regard for the factors affecting it in the current conditions. Russia stands for working consistently to strengthen arms control and WMD non-proliferation regimes based on the principles of openness and predictability. Russia has completed the destruction of its chemical weapons, implemented its obligations under the New START treaty. We have submitted to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament our proposals for drafting a convention for the suppression of chemical and biological terrorism, as well as a Russian-Chinese initiative on preventing the placement of weapons in outer space. Now intensive consultations are being held with India to join it.
Russia will continue to contribute to a political and diplomatic settlement of many conflicts, in particular, in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the situation in the Korean Peninsula.
As President Putin said in his address to the Federal Assembly, “let us sit down at the negotiating table and devise together a new and relevant system of international security and sustainable development for human civilization.” The SCO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and BRICS are contributing to our common movement towards this goal. The G20, where both the G7 and BRICS countries are represented, has solid potential in this sphere as well. Russia is ready for honest, open and equal cooperation based on mutual respect with everyone who is sincerely interested in a common peaceful future and prosperity for the humankind.
In this regard, measures taken by Russia and India, at international and national levels, help us defeat terrorism, which is becoming more dangerous, aggressive and effective. Its propaganda and recruiting skills improve, including through effective use of information technologies.
Russia, as a responsible power, consistently calls for the consolidation of international peace and security, for the comprehensive settlement of any situations and crises by means of a constructive dialogue and open interaction. We are ready to respond to any threat, but prefer the way of cooperation and mutual respect.
That is exactly what we value when we speak about our partnership with India. It is a matter of great satisfaction and pride that notwithstanding global turbulence we concentrate on real things trying to effectively use complementarity of our potentials for the sake of development, prosperity and security in bilateral, regional and international dimensions.