Modi's Russia visit, a moderate success

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia was a moderate success. The two countries signed several agreements including one on Russia setting up two more nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu, starting joint manufacture of frigates in addition to co-production of Kamov-226 military choppers, building a high-speed train service between Nagpur and Secunderabad etc. They also decided to hold their first tri-services military exercise, named Indra-2017 this year and reiterated their commitment to increasing their bilateral trade from the current $7.8 billion to a target of $30 billion by 2025. With regard to its problems with terrorism, India found a somewhat sympathetic ear in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would always support New Delhi in its fight against terrorism, irrespective of where it emanated from. An India-Russia vision document also called for an end to cross-border movement of terrorists and underscored the need for the international community to act against it without “double standards and selectivity.” However, Putin did not take sides on the Kashmir dispute, simply saying that it was up to India and Pakistan to settle it.

While India and Russia can draw some satisfaction from the agreements signed at the Modi-Putin summit at St Petersburg, it is hard to dispel the feeling that not much was done at the summit to arrest the obvious drift that has gripped bilateral relations. India-Russia relations are stagnating while Russo-Pakistan relations are warming. And while India need not panic over Russia’s growing military cooperation with Islamabad since it is the commercial motivations that drive it at present, Delhi cannot take this too lightly. Additionally, Russia, Pakistan and China are cooperating in Afghanistan on a process that envisages inclusion of Taliban in the power structure. This goes against India’s security interests. Modi could have used the St Petersburg summit to bridge the yawning gap in the positions between India and Russia on Afghanistan. He did not.

Also, Modi should have used his meeting with Putin to breathe new life into the ambitious International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) project. Similar in vision, ambition and scope to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the INSTC project could do for India’s economy what BRI is expected to bring China. Sadly, this project, which has several Eurasian and West Asian countries on board too, has been languishing for over 15 years. Modi and Putin have the energy and interest to pull off the INSTC project but they missed an opportunity to kick-start it at St Petersburg. They must prioritise this project at their next meeting as its rewards for their bilateral relationship and economies are enormous.

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