India-Russia: Keeping the marriage going

Manmohan Singh with Dimitri Medvedev
at the Kremlin

An Indo-Russia summit is a bit like a marriage anniversary a decade after the wedding. 

I mean, the two sides have a lot to grumble about each other but each one knows that it can’t do without the other no matter how many new distractions come along the way.

And so it was in Moscow in mid-December when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Dimitri Medvedev attended the 12th Indo-Russia summit–an annual ritual over the past decade and more.

Both sides reviewed their long-standing “Special and priviliged Strategic Partnership,” in the 40th year of the landmark Indo-Soviet Friendship treaty, found that the traditional areas of partnership–defence, space, science and technology–are as solid as before. New Delhi did point out though that there are irritants in defence equipment supplied by Russia. The recent crash of a Sukhoi-30 combat jet came up for discussion and so did the matter of sticking to the timetable for delivery of INS Vikramaditya, formerly Admiral Gorshkov, the mammoth aircraft carrier currently undergoing refit and revamp in Russia.

Part of the joint statement in fact said: “The two sides welcomed the outcome of the eleventh meeting of the India-Russia Inter Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation in addressing issues of mutual concern. The sides took note of the progress made in important joint defence projects such as the refitment of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov), joint development and production of Multi-Role Transport Aircraft, Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and licensed production of various Russian origin defence equipment and armaments in India.”

But an important development was neither mentioned during the talks nor put down on paper:  that a nuclear submarine leased from Russia is all set to join the Indian Navy in early 2012.

 Sources confirmed that a an Akula class nuclaer submarine leased for 10 years by the Indian Navy was leaving Russian shores by end December and was all set to join the Indian Navy fleet in early 2012

The confirmation of this long-speculated development came hours before Manmohan Singh reached Moscow.

 Indian navy officers and sailors have been training on the nuclear submarine for the past several months. 

This is the second time India is leasing a Russian Nuclear submarine. on lease. In the late 1980s the Indian navy had acquired the necessary skills required to operate a nuclear submarine by training on another Russian submarine christened INS Chakra.

 India is building its own nuclear submarine named INS Arihant. This indigenous submarine is however not expected to operational for at least another three years. Nuclear powered submarines require special skill setts to operate in comparison to concventional dieselpowered submarines.

 An ambitious programme to indigenously build half a dozen diesel powered submarines with French technology is currently under way at the Public sector Mazgaon Docks Ltd. in Mumbai. the project has however suffered expensive cost and time overruns.

In Moscow, India also clinched a deal to acquire 42 more fly-by-wire Sukhoi-30 heavy combat jets from Russia in coming years.

However the most significant decision was to widen the scope of the partnership and break out of the traditional areas.  Hence forth New Delhi and Moscow want to concentrate on trade and economy and not just on space and defence.

Getting ready for the Joint conference at the

Part of the joint statement emphasised the new areas of cooperation: “The sides noted the fruitful work carried out by the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation which held its XVII session in Moscow on November 18, 2011. Decisions adopted by the Intergovernmental Commission and aimed at ensuring dynamic growth of bilateral economic ties focused on innovative and high-technology components, as well as investment projects that would contribute to the modernization and growth of both the economies. India welcomed Russia’s impending entry into the WTO. The sides decided to jointly study the possibility of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between India and the Belarus-Kazakhstan-Russia Custom Union. The sides decided to actively exchange business missions in various fields of cooperation and to work out details on industrial modernization opportunities in India. They decided to explore the setting up of a joint investment fund and to promote greater cooperation between the regions of the two countries. The sides expressed satisfaction that several joint projects in the Hydrocarbon, Steel, Mining, Automobile, Fertilizer and Pharmaceutical sectors are currently being pursued.”

 The idea is to take bilateral trade from the current 9 billion dollars to 15 billion by 2015.

Both  sides reiterated their commitment to implement their plans for a long term partnership in the field of peaceful nuclear energy.  The jpint statement said: “The sides noted with satisfaction the successful promotion of cooperation in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and reaffirmed their commitment to the highest standards of safety of nuclear technologies. The sides recognized the competence and rich experience of Russian organizations in design and technical assistance and of Indian organizations in the construction of nuclear power plants and their technical expertise. The sides looked forward to the early commissioning of the first two units at Kudankulam.”

Clearly, India and Russia have a lot in common but both need to work more purposefully to realise the true potential of their old, time-tested friendship.

(This piece will appear in Purple Beret magazine’s forthcoming issue)

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