Russia friendship test for Delhi

Thursday, 22 October 2015 05:40

New Delhi, Oct. 21: Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday called Russia a "tried and tested friend". Minutes later, Russia - locked in two wars and a Cold War-style spat with the US - decided to test those words. Russia has proposed two potentially controversial joint projects to India, one in space and the other in the inhospitable Arctic, senior officials have told to The Telegraph, at a time some in Moscow suspect a unique strategic bond with New Delhi may be fraying. The proposals, to set up a ring of satellites modelled on a Russian military project and joint mining for minerals in the Arctic, offer India access and expertise in sectors New Delhi is desperate to enter. But the projects, suggested by Russia during a meeting between Sushma and Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Tuesday, also risk pitchforking New Delhi into Moscow's tensions with the West. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Russia in December for an annual meet with President Vladimir Putin, and Sushma's meet with Rogozin was aimed at preparing a blueprint for cooperation the two leaders will discuss. The satellites can provide Internet access to remote areas within India, a project that would dovetail into Modi's "Digital India" initiative. But they will be modelled on Russia's military communications system - the Gonets - consisting of 48 satellites that Moscow uses to gather intelligence. Russia's hunt for minerals - especially oil and gas - in the Arctic shelf has triggered alarm in other northern countries which fear a race that could end up hastening the environmental degradation of one of the world's most ecologically sensitive zones. The Russian delegation made the proposals at a meeting where Sushma tried to underscore the traditional warmth that has marked New Delhi's ties with Moscow, an ally that stood by India when the West imposed sanctions after the 1974 and 1998 nuclear tests. Russia was also the initial provider of key technology and training that helped India develop its nuclear and space programmes. "Russia is a tried and tested friend," Sushma said. "The word 'Russia' immediately evokes a feeling of warmth among Indians." At the meeting, Sushma and Rogozin iterated past commitments - made during Putin's visit to India last December - to ease bureaucratic bottlenecks that are hobbling the growth of bilateral trade. According to ministry of commerce data, India's bilateral trade with Russia in 2014-15 stood at just $6.3 billion lower than India's trade with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Russia is India's 33rd ranking trade partner. Over the past year, India and Russia have tried to encourage their private firms to invest in each other's economies, marking a break from the past when economic relations were mostly government-to-government., 21.10.2015

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