December 15, 2014

India-Russia ties need regular nurturing

  AP File Photo. 

India-Russia ties need regular nurturing

Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India has served to reaffirm bilateral bonds between the two countries. Beyond the positive rhetoric – New Delhi assured Putin that Moscow will remain its foremost partner – a string of agreements in the energy, defence and economic sectors were signed which serve to arrest the downward slide in bilateral relations.  They unveiled a "Druzhba-Dosti" vision statement that will guide their engagement over the coming decade and pledged to triple trade in this period. Twenty agreements were signed, including one worth US$10 billion that will provide India with Russian crude oil. The two sides are also eyeing an expansion of civilian nuclear energy cooperation; Russia will build a dozen more nuclear reactors in India over the next 20 years.
It has agreed to assemble 400 twin-engined helicopters in India. Transfer of technology and local manufacture of components and spares is on the anvil. This will take forward India's bid to indigenise production of military hardware.

The India-Russia relationship has been troubled in recent years. Moscow is miffed at India's growing proximity to the US and fears losing ground to Washington in India's defence market although it accounts for 70 per cent of India's defence purchases. Delhi is uneasy with Russia's recent defence pact with Pakistan. It was amidst this atmosphere of suspicion that Putin's visit took place. Hopefully, the two sides used the opportunity to clarify doubts.
Some maturity is needed. Both countries need to understand that the other can explore options with different partners. While deals go some way in assuaging apprehensions, depending on summits alone to tackle issues is not the best way to build a relationship.

Diplomats in the two countries should be defusing problems before they turn serious. The two sides need to discard the 'benign neglect' approach that defined their engagement over the past decade to adopt one that sees them nurturing the relationship on a regular basis. Only this can keep their time-tested friendship alive.

At a time when the US and the EU are seeking to isolate Russia on the Crimean question by crippling its economy through unilateral sanctions, Putin's successful visit to India has riled the Americans, who are no doubt envious of the expanding India-Russia nuclear cooperation.
 The US shrill disapproval of India doing business with Moscow is in poor taste. India and Russia are sovereign countries. Who they chose to engage, how and when is for them to determine and decide, not for the US to dictate. India needs to tell the Americans this clearly.

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