Sushma in Moscow: Draw up an Ambitious Modi-Putin Summit Agenda
Sushma Swaraj’s Russia visit should be aimed at finding ways to reboot ties with Moscow, writes Ashok Sajjanhar.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj began a three-day visit to Moscow today to co-chair, along with her Russian counterpart Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the 21st meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC).
It will be a gross fallacy to assume that she might be spending all her time just to participate in official meetings. Knowing her track record in office and her penchant for creating opportunities where none exist, her agenda can be expected to be broader and more comprehensive than merely taking stock of developments since the last meeting of the IRIGC in November last year.
Opportunity to interact with the Russian government at the highest level will be utilised by Swaraj to draw up an ambitious agenda for the Modi-Putin Summit later this year. Last year Putin’s visit to India was heavily curtailed because of his pre-occupations at home.
Roadmap For Russia
Modi and Putin need to establish a comfort level that the former has established with other world leaders like Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe and Angela Merkel so that the stagnating partnership can be given a strong push forward. The onus is on Swaraj to identify appropriate areas with her Russian interlocutors and draw up a visionary and pioneering road map so that decisions at the Summit are transformational and path-breaking.
It is imperative that Russia again assumes its place of primacy in India’s strategic, oil and gas, nuclear energy, defence and science and technology spheres that it once occupied. While India’s engagement with several major players has shown impressive gains, our ties with Russia appear rudderless.
Time is ripe today for both sides to identify specific projects in areas identified above as well as in business areas like diamonds, manufacturing, dairy, marine products, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, bovine meat etc. to significantly enhance the partnership.
Spiking Up Trade
India’s trade turnover is in the range of $100 billion each, with the US and Europe. Shockingly, our two-way trade with Russia is still wallowing at a paltry $10 billion. Government, private business, chambers of commerce and industry, banks and infrastructure agencies need to come up with serious plans for a quantum leap in our trade volumes.
Modi’s flagship projects like Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, Smart Cities and new infrastructure projects resonate strongly in several countries. It is essential for Russia also to get a sizeable chunk of the pie. Russian companies will need to put forth viable proposals for bolstering their presence in the Indian market.
A proposal has been mooted for Russia and India to jointly explore and prospect hydrocarbons and minerals in the Arctic Shelf. This can be a game changer and raise bilateral ties to a significantly higher strategic level. A “suitable mechanism” for rupee-rouble trade settlements to increase the current trade turnover is under active consideration.
Rebuilding Ties with Russia
- Apart from oil and gas, India needs to work with Russia in sectors such as renewable energy
- Plans needed from government as well as businesses that can increase two-way trade
- Viable proposals needed from Russian companies for tapping into ‘Make in India’ projects
- India and Russia must ensure active involvement of China, Iran for restoring peace and security in Afghanistan
Resolving Outstanding Issues
It is expected that IRIGC will resolve outstanding issues so that bilateral trade can go to $30 billion by 2025. Both sides should instruct their delegations to expeditiously complete the work of the Joint Working Group established recently to prepare a report on India’s membership to the Eurasian Economic Union.
Active utilisation of available infrastructure under the International North-South Transport Corridor needs to be explored seriously. Both Modi and Putin outlined their determination to give a concerted push to economic expansion in their “Druzhba-Dosti” statement issued on December 11, 2014. Now is the time to work assiduously to deliver on that commitment.
India’s forthcoming membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a fresh element in bilateral dynamics which can expand our cooperation in several significant areas.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan is a matter of considerable concern for the two countries. Talks between Kabul and Taliban choreographed by Pakistan under the benign watch of China and the US are leading nowhere. On the contrary, attacks by the Taliban on Afghan cities are getting more vicious.
The Taliban has become so powerful with the support of the Pakistan army and the ISI that they captured and retained control over the fifth largest city Kunduz for a few days. India and Russia need to ensure active involvement of regional countries, including China, Iran and the Central Asian republics for expeditious restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan.
Swaraj will obtain a better understanding of the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, as well as the current situation in Ukraine.
The Modi-Putin Summit will be a valuable opportunity to significantly enhance the scope and content of bilateral partnership and take it to a level to justify the epithet of “special and privileged strategic partnership” used to describe it. There is keen desire for achieving this on both sides. Strong relations between India and Russia will notably contribute to peace, security and stability not only in their own countries but also in the region and the world.
(The writer is a former Indian ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.)
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