On August 15, India celebrates its 69th Independence Day. In an interview to the agency "Sputnik" on the eve of this memorable event, the Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Mikhailovich Kadakin answered the questions of our special correspondent Natalya Benyukh.
Q: What does Independence Day of India mean to you? With what words would you like to wish the Indian friends and colleagues on this occasion?
A: For me, as well as my colleagues, the Independence Day of India is a symbol of justice, the embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of many generations of Indians. It marks the culmination of the struggle of the Indian people against oppression of the colonialists for the right to decide their own destiny. After gaining independence, India set out on a long path which has enabled it to confidently occupy its place among the countries with the fastest growing economy. It has earned high international prestige and is considered to be a rising world power today.
For 68 years, we have cherished and taken pride in the fact that diplomatic relations between our countries were established a few months before India officially became independent. Despite the internal political changes and radical changes in the global arena, nothing has clouded friendly Russian-Indian relations over these years. Today, these relations are characterized as a special privileged strategic partnership - a unique international format that is unparalleled in the history of diplomacy.
India’s Independence Day is also memorable to me for personal reasons: it was on the eve of this festival back in 1971 that I first set foot on Indian soil. It is noteworthy that the visit fell on August 9, when the historic Soviet-Indian Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed. This document set out the key parameters of the bilateral relations between our countries for the years that followed. I think it was a sort of "sign of destiny", because since those memorable days India has firmly taken root in my life: nearly a quarter century of my diplomatic career has been spent here.
I can say without exaggeration that the Independence Day of India is our common festival. Offering heartiest congratulations to our Indian friends, we wish them continued success in all their activities and undertakings for the welfare and prosperity of the great India and for our friendship.
Q: In actual practice, how is the strategic partnership between Russia and India manifested and realized?
A: Let me remind readers and listeners of "Sputnik" that Russia and India became initiators of this format of interaction, introduced in international practice at the turn of the XXI century following the signing of the Delhi Declaration on strategic partnership by Vladimir Putin and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000. This was a specific reflection of the maturity, diversity and depth of our relations which continue to grow in spite of the severe turmoil on the world stage. At the heart of this phenomenon lies an unprecedented level of mutual understanding and trust, intimacy or community of priorities in economic and social development, domestic and foreign policy, including our approach to peace and security, to the formation of a new global architecture. Based on this precious asset, accumulated through joint efforts from the early days of the existence of independent India, the two countries have cultivated new directions of bilateral cooperation, conforming to our national interests and the current international agenda.
Q: For a long time, Russia and India have been trying to accelerate bilateral trade and economic relations. However, little progress has been made in this direction. What are the reasons? What is being done for a more perceptible way forward? Are there any specific ongoing projects apart from "Kudankulam" Nuclear Power Plant that are being implemented successfully at present?
A: Economic cooperation is one of the fundamental elements of Russian-Indian strategic partnership. In the foreseeable future, nuclear energy will remain the main element of this partnership. Let me remind you that the second unit of NPP "Kudankulam" is expected to become operational by the end of 2015 and we expect to start the construction of Units 3 and 4 of this plant in early 2016. The Indian side is prepared to offer us a platform to build the second nuclear power plant of Russian design. The "Strategic Vision" of the Russia-India cooperation in nuclear energy, signed during the Russia-India summit in December 2014, provides for the growth of cooperation in various areas, including the production of radioisotopes and scientific and technological developments. Agreements have been reached on the participation of Indian scientists in the programmes being carried out at the Center for Nuclear Research in Dubna.
I agree that the potential for trade between the major emerging economies such as India and Russia is far from being exhausted. However, it should be borne in mind that in recent years we have made significant progress in the development of contacts between small and medium-sized businesses, Russian regions are participating quite actively in this process . This is facilitated by the consistent improvement in the business environment and investment in both countries, as well as the current international economic environment.
The task of increasing the volume of bilateral trade to 30 billion US dollars and mutual investment to $ 15 billion by 2025 set by our leaders during the bilateral summit in December last year is quite achievable. A mechanism to move to the use of national currencies in mutual settlements is being actively developed. The creation of a reliable and efficient infrastructure of the international transport corridor "North-South", which will significantly reduce the delivery period for goods and the cost of cargo transportation between Russia and India is being accelerated. We are discussing the creation of a Free Trade Zone between the Euro-Asian Economic Union and India. The first meeting of the Joint Study Group on the advisability of such an agreement was held recently. We are working on updating the Russian-Indian agreement on the protection and promotion of mutual investments. All these steps will create an entirely new environment for building fruitful cooperation, not only bilaterally but also on the regional level.
Speaking of advances in bilateral trade and economic relations, mention must be made of the successful implementation of a number of projects in the oil and gas sector. In particular, the Indian company ONGC Videsh Ltd. is carrying out exploration of oil fields in the Tomsk region and in the northeast shelf of Sakhalin Island (project "Sakhalin-1"). In pursuance of the accords reached during the December visit of the Russian President to India, the Russian company Rosneft and the Essar Group signed during the BRICS summit in Ufa on July 8 this year a long-term contract for oil supplies for the purpose of refining at the Vadinar refinery (Gujarat, India) . The contract envisages total supplies of 100 mln tones of crude oil over a period of 10 years. This is truly a landmark event in the history of oil and gas cooperation between India and Russia as it opens up broad prospects for cooperation in related fields.
Moreover, Rosneft and Essar shareholders signed a Term Sheet with regard to the participation of Rosneft in the Vadinar refinery equity capital with a share of up to 49%. The framework of the transaction also includes a retail network of 1,600 petrol pumps in India.
In the energy sector, work is continuing under a contract for designing the second stage of the largest hydroelectric power plant UpperSiang in India, signed in March 2014 by the company "RusHydro International" in consortium with the Institute "Hydroproject". In February this year, the International group of companies "Lighting technology" started the production of lighting equipment for general and special purpose capacity of 60 thousand luminaires per month in the southern state of Karnataka. There are other instances confirming the growing commitment of business communities of the two countries to expand mutually beneficial cooperation.
Q: Military-technical cooperation is an important part of Russian-Indian relations, but in recent years the position of Russian military equipment in the Indian market is being lost to competition from France, Israel, USA and others. How do you assess the potential and prospects of cooperation between Russia and India? What are the directions in which it is acquiring significance and gaining weight?
A: I think that the statement about the loss of positions in the Russian arms market in India is very much exaggerated. We continue to occupy a unique and leading place in the field of direct supplies and joint production of arms and military equipment for various purposes in India. Today, the Indian Navy and the Air Force have 80% and 70%, respectively, of their equipment from Russia. No other country in the world has such collaboration with India.
Cooperation in this area is based on a long-term programme of military-technical cooperation for 2011-2020, which consists of more than 20 intergovernmental agreements. The total amount of contracts signed by India with Russia is over 35 billion dollars, more than with any other country.
The programme of modernization of the Indian armed forces envisages bulk imports of modern weapons running into tens of billions of dollars, and Russia holds a key position in India’s priorities. This sphere of Russian-Indian cooperation is characterized by the highest degree of confidentiality and trust. The situation is determined not so much by the plans or even individual target contracts as by the overall accomplished deals and joint projects for the future that are already being implemented. For example, the best supersonic missile in the world "BrahMos", which has already been inducted into service in India is at the same time being adapted for use by all kinds of troops, including air force and submarine fleet, or the fifth-generation fighter and multifunctional transport aircraft. A whole range of other initiatives and proposals for prospective projects are also being considered.
Russia readily shares technologies with India and focuses on joint production of military hardware. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to launch a nationwide program "Make in India" offers great opportunities for closer cooperation between Russian and Indian companies. Russia's participation in this programme is primarily seen in the establishment of joint ventures in India in areas that have traditionally formed the basis of bilateral cooperation in the military-industrial as well as in civil production. It is about promoting projects such as the creation of medium multipurpose transport aircraft, fifth generation fighters, and production of components for the MC-21 aircraft. Russia pins high hopes on the production of the modern and highly prospective helicopter Ka-226 that it will be marketing together with Indian partners. Proposals are under consideration for the construction of ships and submarines, production of latest tanks and other modern military-technical equipment that has attracted the interest of Indian partners. Joint production is intended not only with state corporations, but also with major private companies.
Q: For decades, cultural and scientific relations between Russia and India grew successfully, there was a programme of exchange of experts, scientists, students. In the post-Soviet period, many of these relations were interrupted. And, although the level of political interaction is defined as "a specially privileged strategic partnership", cultural, scientific, educational and information exchange has not yet recovered to its previous level.
What are the current prospects of cultural ties between Russia and India? Is there any progress in the area of bilateral tourism?
A: Russian-Indian cultural cooperation is developing in accordance with the intergovernmental cultural exchange programmes. Without false modesty, I can state that in recent years we have achieved significant progress in this area. Indian connoisseurs of music, dance, stage and theatrical arts are increasingly getting an opportunity to get acquainted with the work of Russian troupes”. In 2014, a large-scale festival of Russian culture was celebrated in five Indian cities along with New Delhi. The programme of the festival included performances of the Moscow State Academic Theatre of Dance "Gzhel", the Borodin Quartet, Obraztsov’s Theatre of dolls, and the ballet troupe of the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. The festival attracted full houses and was recognized as the most visited cultural event of the year.
Visits and tours of Russian groups were also organized in various cities in India during the festival season by the Russian Embassy and the Rossotrudnichestvo Mission. These included piano concerts in New Delhi and Mumbai by the famous Russian pianist and teacher, UNESCO Artist for Peace S.N.Markarov. In October, concerts of the choreographic theatre "Iskorki" (Samara) were held with great success in New Delhi, Naggar and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Mumbai, Pune and Trivandrum. The Cossack dance ensemble "Stanitsa" and the vocal quartet "Slavitsa" from the Krasnodar region took part in the Festival of Folk Art in Kullu, as well as in two other international festivals. The performances of the world famous musician Igor Butman and jazz orchestra “Moscow Jazz Band” in Mumbai and New Delhi got rousing receptions.
The Embassy continues to actively promote the development and activities of memorials created at the Roerich estates in Naggar (Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh) and Tataguni (Karnataka) and designed to preserve the priceless spiritual, cultural and historical heritage of the great Russian family. With the help of Indian friends, we expect to turn them into world-class museums, cultural, educational and research centres.
Publishing work is an important part of the activities aimed at strengthening ties between Russia and India. In December 2014, the Russian Embassy in India presented to the readers a unique art book "Vasily Vereshchagin: Indian poem" simultaneously in English and Russian languages, its publication coinciding with the official visit of Vladimir Putin to India. The album is a continuation of the series of exclusive publications of outstanding Russians whose creative, scientific and artistic activities are connected with India.
In keeping with the established tradition, the baton of the cultural festival has been picked up by India this year. Popular Indian musicians and dancers have already begun touring Russia this year. But performances by famous Russian artists in India have also been scheduled. In particular, the stars of jazz led by Igor Butman will once again shine in October in the concert halls of New Delhi and Mumbai. The unique exhibition of the collection of Mughal miniatures illustrating the handwritten "Babur Nama." promises to be a highlight of the season. The Russian State Museum of Oriental Art is making preparations to show the rare exhibits at the National Museum in the Indian capital.
As far as tourism is concerned, the trend of an increase in the number of Russians visiting India for rest and excursions observed in recent years has been maintained on the whole. In 2014, more than 150 thousand Russian tourists visited India. The attractiveness of India as a tourist destination certainly increased after the introduction of simplified visa procedures in November last year for the citizens of Russia, who can now obtain a visa on arrival in India if they have preliminarily filled and electronically submitted the appropriate forms .
It is encouraging that the cooperation through youth movements has significantly intensified in recent years. During the past year, a series of meetings between representatives of the younger generation of both countries was organised in New Delhi alone. It is a matter of great satisfaction that work in this area has been carried out successfully within BRICS. I see a great future for this movement.
Q: In your opinion, what additional opportunities for bilateral Russian-Indian cooperation, including in the economic, trade, banking and other sectors emerged at the BRICS and the SCO summits in Ufa?
A: The BRICS and the SCO summits held in July once again showed the identity of approach of Russia and India to the solution of pressing international problems and to strengthening the foundations of a multipolar world. The Indians share our position on the inadmissibility of the imposition of unilateral economic sanctions without UN approval. During the meeting in Ufa, Prime Minister Modi confirmed the view of India that such actions are detrimental to the global economy and make the task of strengthening the economic cooperation among the BRICS nations more urgent.
The BRICS Summit highlighted the need for transformation of the obsolete model of global financial system, creation of new institutions to meet modern challenges. The news about the establishment of the new development bank of BRICS and the pool of reserve currencies was welcomed in India. Indian partners hope that while expanding their activity, they will have better chances of borrowing funds for infrastructure projects, social and humanitarian programmes, which will ultimately strengthen economic stability. The proposals of Prime Minister Modi to conclude a customs agreement, to hold the first BRICS trade fair, to collaborate on the construction of railways and to participate in improving agricultural potential were warmly received.
In Indian political circles, Ufa is now firmly associated with a significant event - the beginning of the procedure for India’s entry in the SCO as a full member. Such an expansion of the organization will, of course, raise its credibility and serve to strengthen the role of SCO in the international arena, promote cooperation in the interests of peace and security, in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other global and regional challenges and threats. This is especially true in the context of reconciliation and stabilization in Afghanistan, joint efforts in countering the threat of ISIS and other dangerous manifestations of radical Islam.
President Putin and Prime Minister Modi met on the sidelines of the Ufa summits. Prime Minister Modi will come to Russia again before the end of the year on a bilateral visit. The preparatory work for this important event has already started. We are looking ahead to meetings of respective working groups and two intergovernmental commissions that will prepare specific proposals for the agenda. The forthcoming summit in Moscow will impart a new impetus to our relationship , raise them to a new level and impart fresh ideas that will enrich Russian-Indian cooperation.
Greetings on Independence Day, our friend India!