Modi's Russia visit is strategically significant

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Vladivostok in Russia, where he participated in the 20th India-Russia Annual Summit and the Fifth Eastern Economic Forum Summit, has been strategically most productive. The two countries signed a raft of agreements in the fields of defence, maritime connectivity, natural gas and trade. Moscow reiterated it would set up at least 12 Russian-designed nuclear power units in the coming two decades, in addition to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. The two sides also discussed joint production of nuclear fuel in India.

The highpoint of Modi’s visit was his announcement of a $1 billion line of credit for the development of Russia’s Far East (RFE). A people-scarce region, the RFE is rich in resources. Hitherto, China has played a dominant role in the development of the RFE, and while Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to jumpstart the economy of this backward region, there are concerns over the influx of Chinese labour from across the border. No doubt, Russia hopes that India’s emerging role in the RFE will help it reduce China’s domination there.

India’s development of the RFE will provide it access to resources and employment for skilled workers. Moreover, this will provide Delhi a foothold on the Pacific coast. This is important due to the mounting significance of the Indo-Pacific region in global geopolitics. With Sino-American relations increasingly conflictual, even confrontationist, and China flexing its muscles in and around Southeast Asian waters, India and Russia, with economic interests in the region, are worried. They would like the Indo-Pacific region to be “open, free and inclusive.” India’s credit line for the RFE’s development will help the two countries work towards that. In addition to heralding a new era in India-Russia cooperation, it marks the start of India’s ‘Act Far East’ policy. Additionally, the proposed opening of a maritime route linking Vladivostok with Chennai will speed up India’s maritime trade not only with Russia but also with Europe, via the Arctic route. India is investing in Arctic energy fields and will be able to transport this energy via the Vladivostok-Chennai route.

However, India and Russia are not on the same page with regard to Afghanistan. Anxious to prevent the Taliban from exporting its fundamentalism to the restive Central Asian states, Russia has been supportive of a larger role for the Taliban and Pakistan in the emerging scenario in Afghanistan. This is of concern to India, particularly with the imminent drawdown of US troops there. India must convince Russia that appeasing the Taliban is not in anyone’s interest.

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