All-weather friends

Presidential visits abroad are largely ceremonial in nature and invariably serve the purpose of exchange of goodwill and cementing of relations between the countries. Given the recent dynamics of geo-political and economic interdependence among the countries of the world, President Pratibha Patil’s seven-day tour of Russia and Tajikistan was far more than ceremonial. India’s friendship with Russia has been the bulwark of its foreign policy for decades and has truly stood the test of time. There may have been a little flagging of interest after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s decline as a super power and India’s own compulsion to get closure to the United States. But, with the re-emergence of Russia under Vladimir Putin as a force to reckon with and the realisation dawning on major developing countries like India, China and Brazil that together they can form an effective counterweight to the rich nations, there is a sudden flurry of activity. Patil’s Russia visit, her first after the UPA government returned to power, was intended to convey how deeply India values its association with Russia.

Patil’s Russia sojourn once again underscored the genuine affection and love the people of that country have towards India and Indians. The on-going festival of India in Russia showcases the country’s rich cultural heritage with all its linguistic and ethnic diversities. The Russians’ love affair with Bollywood continues unabated and it is amazing to see the people’s interest and grasp of Indian films. This bonding has a cascading effect on the political leadership which is ready to go the extra mile to befriend India and meet its exigencies in world affairs. Hence, when Patil raised India’s concerns about cross-border terrorism, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia expressed its unqualified support to fight the menace. On the economic front, both countries agreed that they have enormous potential to take bilateral trade much beyond the existing $25 billion per annum.

In Tajikistan, Patil received a rousing reception as the newly emerging country, coming out of more than a decade of civil war, looks upon India for inspiration and help. Tajik President Emamoli Rahman wants Indian industrialists to invest in his country and in return, promised to open up Tajikistan’s uranium mines for India.

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