So much in common, nothing to divide us: Ambassador Kadakin

THE INQUIRER

So much in common, nothing to divide us: Ambassador Kadakin

It was in 1971 when he landed in New Delhi for the first time to join the Embassy of the erstwhile United Soviet Socialist Republic in India as a probationer. He went on to work at different capacities at the Embassy of USSR, which turned into Russian Embassy after 1991. He was the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to India from 1999 to 2004 and returned to the same position in October 2009. In an interview with Anirban Bhaumik of Deccan Herald, Ambassador Kadakin, who speaks Hindi and Urdu as fluently as he does Russian and English, shares his views on Moscow-Delhi relations ahead of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India.

As someone who has seen USSR-India and then Russia-India ties from a very close quarter for four decades, can you please share with us your views on the relation and its future course, particularly ahead of President Medvedev’s visit to New Delhi?

This presidential visit marks the 10th anniversary of the Declaration of Strategic Partnership, which in case of our relations, is more than just a nicely put diplomatic formula. It represents a sound and meaningful characteristic of our countries’ past, present and, I am convinced, future ties. The present summit emphasises the outstanding feature of our relations, an exceptional intensity of political contacts between our nations. As you are aware, Indian leaders, including President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Russia last year. Other Indian dignitaries are also regular guests in my country for high level negotiations as well as various international conferences, such as St Petersburg Economic Forum. The year 2010 has demonstrated even greater frequency of our bilateral ties with the visits of Chief of State Election Commission V Churov, Minister of Industry and Trade V Khristenko, Defense Minister A Serdykov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Vice-Premier Sergey Sobyanin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as well as Joint Inter-Governmental Commission meetings last autumn. President Medvedev’s summit with Prime Minister Singh will become a worthy finale of this distinctly great political year.

What are the expectations from President Medvedev’s visit?

There are so many “firsts” in our relations with India. We were the first to establish diplomatic relations with India, even before the county’s formal independence from the foreign rule in 1947. We were the first to play a pioneering role in industrialising Indian economy in the1950-60s with construction of such diverse projects starting from the Bhilai steel plant in 1959 all the way to the antibiotics plant in Rishikesh in 1967. We were the first in opening outer space for Indian satellite in 1975 and an Indian citizen, Rakesh Sharma, in 1984. We were the first to bring our bilateral relations to the level of strategic partnership in 2000. Today we are also prepared to take groundbreaking steps to forward our political and economic cooperation to an even higher plateau. Currently, Russia is the only state that offers India razor-edge military hardware and joint production of state-of-the-art weapon systems. This vivid example upholds Russia’s truly unique attitude to its sister – India. We expect that the upcoming visit will also initiate another breakthrough in our technical partnership with new agreements in space exploration, joint development and production of the fifth generation jet fighter, nuclear energy, nanotechnology, pharmacology and others being on the table.

How different is India’s strategic partnership with Russia from the ones it has with other countries?

Special relationship has existed between Russia and India for many decades from the dawn of India’s independence. Today this special relation has reached another landmark that we defined as “strategic partnership”. I have to be very frank with you: we already got used to this term coined 10 years ago. Now it is widely spread in diplomatic milieu. In fact, it has almost become a cliché in our day-to-day lexicon. But the historic legacy along with truly remarkable perspectives serves as the distinguished feature of our old friendship disregarding the global political climate. Our relations do reflect this attitude with common threats shared by both Russia and India whether it is our fight against terrorism, or struggle for multi-polarity in international relations and institutions.
However, the uniting role of the common threat can reflect our relations only partly. The true essence of our alliance’s strategic character remains in the fact that we have so much in common and there is nothing to divide us. Take the vision of regional politics in South Asia or industrialisation, UN politics or conflict resolution. Moreover, our uninterrupted mutually beneficial collaboration was not driven solely by common enemies or threats, but was targeted at creative work, which was never clouded by even an allusion of misunderstanding throughout these many decades. I always prefer to speak of our cooperation as a rare and even unique case of privileged strategic partnership, a partnership for peace and mutual development.

Bilateral trade between Russia and India is still much below the potential. Why? What are the initiatives the two countries contemplating to boost bilateral trade?

We do acknowledge that the potential of our economic ties is much higher than its present level. However, I cannot but emphasise the rapid growth of our bilateral trade, lately. It has increased almost 10 times during the last decade reaching US $ 9.5-10 billion. Russia traditionally sells industrial and technical equipment, which constitutes more than half of my country’s exports to India. Pharmaceutical cooperation, based on firm historic background, plays an important role in our trade, making up one third of India’s export to Russia.  The upcoming summit is aimed at increasing our cooperation in pharmaceutical and bio-tech beyond the existing scale. These traditional forms of economic interaction constitute a solid basis, which we use to expand our bilateral trade. However, we have launched a number of new projects in the Skolkovo innovation centre, automobile industry, inter-bank collaboration, etc. The upcoming introduction of GLONASS navigation system in India symbolises the flagship of Russian-Indian innovative cooperation. India will be producing the on-ground equipment, required for smooth and more effective functioning of space technologies that will allow us to ensure logistics security and prevent natural disasters. Indian companies actively participate in the Sakhalin-1 project. Indian ONGC is one of the largest share holders of this enterprise, as well as other projects in Siberia. Recently, Russian Sibur and Indian Reliance Industries Limited agreed to establish joint ventures in butyl rubber production based on Russian technologies. These shining examples of our partnership give us an optimistic occasion, not only to reaffirm US $ 20 billion as a turnover goal for 2015, but even be serious about crossing that figure.

Immaturity of Russian financial and banking sectors as well as an outdated perception of Indian entrepreneurs about the investment opportunities in my country has weakened our business cooperation. However, recently we have witnessed a significant improvement in this field. The largest Russian steel manufacturer, Severstal, and Indian NMDC of late agreed to construct a joint venture in Karnataka, considered as a truly unique project with an unprecedented cost of more than US $ 2 billion, with 50 per cent initially invested by the Russian company. We also have to make an explicit signal to smaller businesses that have already started exploring vast economic potentials of each others’ markets. I believe the upcoming presidential visit can give a clear signal to the business people both in Russia and India to shed outdated and groundless prejudices and get more actively involved in giving a boost to trade relations for their own and both countries’ benefit.

How does Russia view India’s aspiration for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council?

For decades, Moscow has emphasised India’s positive role in international affairs, its vast economic and human potential as a legitimate reason for it get a permanent seat in the UNSC. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov recently stressed that the UNSC would be benefited with India as a Permanent Member.

How do you see the future of India-Russia nuclear cooperation? Do you think India’s nuclear liability regime is a hurdle? Are you disappointed as the Haripur project in West Bengal is getting delayed?

Since the late 1980s, much earlier than any other country, we have taken decisive steps to support civil nuclear energy project in India, with the signing of the Rajiv Gandhi – Michael Gorbachev agreement. Russia’s Atomstroyexport is building two 1000 MW power units at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, with the first one to start production this month or in January. The proposals for the construction of the third and fourth power units are being discussed and we have every reason to expect a positive outcome. In the long run, we have reached understanding on the Road Map for expanding our cooperation in this field. Indian side has positively responded to our proposal for the serial construction of new nuclear power units so that in the next 15-20 years their number will reach 14-16, taking into account Kudankulam and new sites in other parts of India. It is very premature to say now how the Indian nuclear liability regime will influence our energy cooperation. We expect that the Indian side will work out some modalities on how the new law can be implemented. We are determined to help the Indian Government increase overall nuclear power generation capacity to 20 GW in 2020. According to the Road Map signed last March, India will allocate other sites for the proposed Russian nuclear reactors. Haripur in West Bengal is just one option. There could be others as well. What is more, the Russian Atomic agency is now expecting to get a green light from our Indian friends that will open the way for an agreement on the third construction site for yet another nuclear power plant.

How do you see the future of Russia-India defence relationship? 

Military cooperation traditionally has played a crucial role in our ties. We are happy to share with India our latest achievements in defence technology. India acquired license to assemble the internationally acclaimed Sukhoi 30 MKI fighters, whose number in the Indian Air Force will reach 280. We hope that this tradition will continue with the Russian MIG Corporation being among the front-runners for supply of 126 new multi-purpose fighters to the IAF. Russia and India demonstrate great interests towards close cooperation in joint projects such as building the fifth-generation jet fighter or the multi-functional transport aircraft. The BrahMos missile embraces all forms of our multifaceted cooperation starting from draft designing and development to manufacturing and product marketing of cruise missiles, which are second to none in the world. We are jointly working on the project to mount new modifications of the technically outstanding BrahMos missiles on fighter aircraft and submarines. These projects as well as over a dozen agreements that are to be signed during President Medvedev’s visit guarantee a breakthrough progress in future Russian-Indian relations.

While the relations between Russia and India continue to be robust, there is a feeling that it is mostly state-driven and there is need to stress more on people-to-people contact to build the bridge between the new India and new Russia?

Having worked in India for several decades, I should stress a very special feature of our relations – mutually affectionate attitude among common people of our two countries. Recently, during the International Film Festival in Moscow, popularly acclaimed directors and actors like Randhir and Rajiv Kapoor were fascinated when thousands of ordinary Muscovites were applauding, when they heard the names of Indian masterpieces as Awara and Shri Char Sou Bis. Raj Kapoor’s and other both classical and contemporary Indian films, with no exaggeration, are very dear to a Russian heart. Be it in a remote Siberian township or big city like Moscow, ask anyone person on the street about India and I guarantee that you will hear “…Sar pe lal topi Rusi, prir bhi dil he Hindustani”. Nowadays, we even have a special channel called India TV with extremely high ratings among the Russian audience. Similarly, after working in India for so many years, I am not anymore suddenly caught surprised when our diplomats are greeted in Russian language all over India. This is where the deep sympathy for the cultures of our two ancient lands stems from.

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