Deepening bond

The number and range of agreements signed between India and Russia during prime minister Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit again underline the comprehensive nature of relations between the two countries. A total of 19 agreements were signed covering areas like nuclear power generation, co-operation in space, purchase of a new version of MiG 29 fighters by India and joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft, fertiliser industry, banking and telecom. They involve billions of dollars in mutual business. It is a cliché that India and Russia have an all-weather friendship which has grown over decades through the days of the cold war, the break-up of the Soviet Union and major changes in the international situation and the internal situations of both countries. Though there have been occasional hitches in the recent past, the relations have only deepened and expanded progressively.

One such contentious issue was resolved during Putin’s visit with the agreement on the final price and delivery of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Price escalations and repeated postponements of delivery had created apprehensions and even annoyance in India but the differences have come to an end with an agreed price of $2.34 billion and assurance of delivery by 2012. Nuclear co-operation had got an impetus when prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow last year but it has received a further boost now with agreements for Russia building a series of nuclear plants in India. Russia has been competing for nuclear contracts in India. Though it was the Indo-US nuclear deal that opened the doors of India’s nuclear business, it was Russia that took the best advantage of it. Deals with Russia are better for India too than those possible under the Indo-US 123 agreement as they come without conditionalities and carry better assurances on enrichment, reprocessing and fuel supply.

Defence co-operation has dominated traditional Indo-Russian ties. There is a welcome change now as the relationship is diversifying into other areas. This will make economic and trade co-operation deeper. Co-operation in areas like oil and gas has great scope for expansion. But the strong ties with Russia will give the country more room for manoeuvre. By working together with Russia on common areas of concern like political stability in the neighbourhood, climate change issues and trade negotiations India can strengthen its own interests and give itself greater autonomy in foreign policy decisions.

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