People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 18, 2007
EIGHTH INDIA-RUSSIA SUMMIT IN MOSCOW
Showcasing Time-Tested Friendship
N S Arjun
DISPELLING widespread fears of a growing chill in the ties between India and Russia, heads of governments of both nations concluded a successful summit in Moscow on November 12. In the presence of Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Russian president Vladimir Putin both sides inked three agreements and one general letters of exchange relating to solving the long-pending issue of rupee debt fund.
The significance of this summit, coming as it did in the wake of Indian government’s vigorous efforts to become a junior partner to US imperialism, lies in the fact that the Indian side underlined Russia being India’s longstanding strategic partner. Vigorous efforts were made to clear the air for Russia on this aspect. In fact, the talk of a chill setting in arose due to India becoming a strategically ally of the US.
Addressing the media in Kremlin jointly with Putin immediately after the conclusion of talks, Dr Manmohan Singh said “Ours is a strategic partnership that has stood the test of time. There is a mutuality and convergence in our interests. We highly value Russia’s role in international affairs and its global leadership on key issues”. Expressing complete satisfaction at the outcome of the talks, he noted that the discussions were characterised by warmth, cordiality and unanimity on all issues of mutual interest. He said there has been substantial forward movement on many of the issues discussed in the last summit.
President Putin in his remarks also said the talks showed that the two countries shared identical or close views on all issues discussed. Terming the talks “constructive and beneficial”, he observed that the growing integration of both countries in high technology areas in terms of collaboration, production etc is a very useful thing. The growing progress made by both sides on the economic trade front testified to the strong ties. Putin expressed satisfaction at the achievement in cooperation in energy sector and said the experience of Sakhalin project would be taken to other projects.
Both the leaders underscored the importance of defence cooperation between the two countries. The talks held in a business-like manner were split in two parts – one at the delegation level and another at the restrictive level. The restrictive meeting involving prime minister Manmohan Singh, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon from the Indian side and their Russian counterparts went on for more than two hours. The Indian officials stressed to the media that this very fact showed the depth and quality of the special, time-tested relationship between the two countries.
One agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation relating to Joint Moon Exploration was signed between the two sides. This is within the Framework of the Agreement between both the governments on cooperation in the field of exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. Christened Chandrayan II, this unmanned mission to the Moon involves an orbiter, a lander and a rover to carry out scientific studies. The foreign secretary Shivshanker Menon said the aim is to land the vehicle in 2011. He said this would provide a huge impetus to space research.
The second agreement reached was on development and production of a multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) and it involved an investment of $600 million to be made on a 50:50 basis. This is the second major joint research and development initiative in the defence aviation sector between the two countries. An agreement to develop and produce the fifth generation fighter aircraft was reached during defence minister A K Antony’s visit to Russia recently.
The third agreement signed by both sides related to cooperation in combating illicit trafficking in narcotics, psychotropic substances and their precursors.
The long pending issue of utilisation of rupee debt fund was also resolved by the two sides during this summit. These funds, which have now swelled to over Rs 8000 crore would be utilised for Russian investments in India.
Another key decision taken was the setting of a specific target for bilateral trade between the two countries and also a mechanism to achieve it. There is a general dissatisfaction at the meagre $3 billion trade between the two trillion dollar economies. It has been decided to take this trade to $10 billion by 2010. The recommendations of the joint study group in this regard have been implemented with the formation of a joint task force to oversee the achievement of this target. A mechanism of check lists has also been evolved to monitor progress in this regard.
ADDITIONAL NUCLEAR REACTORS ISSUE
Among the key issues to be taken up in the summit included the issue of four additional Russian nuclear reactors at the Koodankulam nuclear power station. A Memorandum of Intent providing for construction of these four reactors was signed in January 2007 and it was expected that a formal inter-governmental agreement on this would be reached during the summit. The Hindu has reported quoting Russian government source that the Russian side was ready with a draft agreement for signature but India backed out at the last minute.
At a time when Russia, a key member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, was willing to stick its neck out for this deal, the Indian government backe out for reasons not known. But if one would guess in backdrop of current situation where Indo-US nuclear deal is struck, it is clear the government was wary of upsetting the US by going ahead and doing a similar deal with Russia. The top officials of Indian establishment put out the excuse that this agreement would have violated international law and that it can be done only after India has done IAEA safeguards agreement and obtained NSG clearance. They had no answer when asked whether the guidelines of NSG, a suppliers cartel, has any legal binding.
Despite this hitch, both the leaders announced their intention to deepen the nuclear cooperation between the two countries. Manmohan Singh made it a point to put on record “Russia's steadfast support in supplementing our nuclear energy programme”.
It was revealed that prime minister Manmohan Singh explained to Putin the problems within the ruling coalition in regard to Indo-US nuclear deal. Putin immediately said that he was aware of it and understood the compulsions. In the press conference Singh said that the question of when India would approach IAEA for safeguards agreement is a matter between our coalition partners and that efforts are on to evolve a consensus.
In the restrictive meeting, issues of global importance, particularly the Iranian nuclear issue, the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, multilateral forums etc were taken up. Although the Indian officials stated that there was a “meeting of minds” on these issues, the divergence on the issue of Iran was quite apparent. Putin clearly stated in the press conference that international rule of law must be adhered to and stressed the primacy of UN role. There was nothing from Indian side so clearly. The foreign secretary when asked by media persons on this remained non-committal. But what was glaring was his pleading against other non-peaceful means against Iran on the ground that there are many Indians living in West Asia and the probable effect on environment “if anything goes wrong”. Nothing on blatant violation of international law by open threats of use of force by the US. “It is in our and Russian interests to see that Iran issue is resolved peacefully and both sides will do whatever they can to achieve this”, stated a high functionary of Indian government off the record.
Russia proposed evolving the ongoing trilateral format of Russia-India-China into a formal arrangement on the lines of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India China). Putin stated this in his remarks at the press conference. The Indian side has not expressed anything openly. It was stated that on Afghanistan and Pakistan both sides shared similar opinion.
The prime minister spent 28 hours in Moscow and as one official said the most impressive part of this tour was how much has been achieved in such a short time. He also stressed the fact that the restrictive meeting was held for more than two hours, showing the depth and quality of the time-tested friendship between the two countries.
(The writer was part of the media delegation accompanying the prime minister during his visit to Russia)