Moscow, July 2016
RT: Next year we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and India. How would you evaluate the current level of political interaction between our countries? Is there a way to improve it? What functions are planned in connection with this significant date?
Answer: Of course, such a big date will be widely observed both in Russia and India. We are preparing to organize a series of joint activities in New Delhi and other major Indian cities ̶ themed seminars, conferences, exhibitions and other cultural events, including film festivals and concert programs. We plan to publish a commemorative album, which will reflect major milestones in the rich history of our countries’ interaction.
The 70th anniversary is undoubtedly a special occasion to ponder what the incentive was to take the historical step of establishing diplomatic relations between our countries in April 1947, before India even became free from its colonial yoke. In my view, the key factor was the centuries-old mutual attraction between our countries and people. “The Indian heart reaches out for immeasurable Russia. The great Indian magnet attracts Russian hearts“… that is how the great Russian artist and philosopher Nikolai Roerich described this unique phenomenon. I will also cite another profound definition of his ̶ “India is not an outland but a full sister of Russia.“
As in olden times, during this 70-year long journey, spiritual and cultural attraction serves as a pivot of mutual understanding between Russia and India, determining the three most important, immutable pillars of our friendship and cooperation ̶ mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual benefit. We state profoundly that during all this long period, not any internal social and political cataclysms, tragedies or tectonic shifts in the international arena were able to shake the foundations of Russian-Indian friendship, which became an ingrained national tradition; nothing has diluted the nation-wide consensus, which emerged in both countries. It is because of this that our interconnections are an example that has no parallel in global diplomatic history or in practice during the 20th and 21st centuries; they are rightfully characterized today as strategic and special privileged partnership. It is borne out by both by our level of political interaction in the international arena and the scale of the joint projects we have implemented ̶ whether it be the most powerful operating nuclear power plant in India, Kudankulam, where the second power unit is set to supply electricity to the national network within days, or the development and production of the world's best supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos, whose last modification has completed its first successful flight test as a strike weapon for the SU-30MKI fighter jet. I emphasize that today no country in the world except Russia shares so generously with anyone its most advanced achievements. It is an unquestionable and indisputable fact. All of the false numbers showing that Russia has been pressed in the arms market ̶ is pure bluffing; the negligent stove-piping by unscrupulous competitors.
Among the most important tendencies of the recent period, I want to mention the high intensity of contacts in the oil and gas sector. The Indian company ONGC Videsh Ltd. actively works in Russia. The Sakhalin-1 project is being implemented, and the development of oilfields in Tomsk Region is going on. The oil company Rosneft, together with its Indian partners, is conducting preparations for the expansion of the development of Vankor field; and extending the foreign-owned share of the project to 49.9%. An agreement for the sale of a 29.9% stake in Taas-Yura-Neftegazdobycha has been signed. In turn, Rosneft has agreed on the conditions and structure of a deal to obtain equity in the Indian company Essar Oil Limited.
Mutually beneficial contracts in other spheres are also being promoted. Specifically, a mechanism is being developed that allows for the use of national currencies in the mutual settlement of accounts. The construction of reliable and effective infrastructure for the 'North-South' international transport corridor will significantly reduce the delivery time of goods and speed up the price of cargo transportation between Russia and India. The establishment of a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and India is being discussed.
We are working on updating the Russian-Indian agreement on the protection and the promotion of mutual investments. All these steps will create an entirely new environment for building fruitful cooperation, not only bilaterally but also at the regional level. We should also mention progress in trans-regional cooperation, including the regular visits of business delegations from Russian regions to the largest cities of India.
Of course, it is not the time to rest on our laurels, despite what we have achieved in seven decades. The potential of Russo-Indian trade and economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation has not been realized to its full extent. There are plenty of opportunities to build and diversify its substantial capacity. As President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated during their meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Tashkent on June 24, 2016, the interests of both countries are conducive to developing existing product lines as well as new ones, and establishing innovative, forward-thinking mechanisms for cooperation and harnessing investment opportunities. These would include projects in which the private sector was actively involved, and the expansion of direct connections between Russian and Indian regions.
When talking about the upcoming anniversary, it is appropriate to speak well of diplomats, we must try to ensure the continuity of their work and multiply its success in every way. Our colleagues have made an invaluable contribution to the formation of the guidelines and the consolidation of Russian-Indian cooperation, which has become an important factor and an effective instrument of international policy. We should take special note of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation (1971), whose 45th anniversary we will celebrate together on August 9. Herein is the Delhi Declaration on the principles of a nuclear-free and non-violent world (1986), as well as the fundamental Delhi Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Republic of India and the Russian Federation (2000), which was signed in the first year of my previous tenure as ambassador. These documents have created precedents that are unheard-of in the world diplomacy, laid down new principles of international relations engineering, and served as an effective response to modern challenges and threats. All the accumulated experience helps us collaborate fruitfully in multilateral formats, and work on the construction of a more balanced and just world order.
RT: During the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister N. Modi to the US, the highlight was when declarations of friendship between the two countries were made. Obama has expressed support for India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). In addition, the US President promised to increase Washington’s cooperation with India with respect to military technology to the status of «major defence partners». Can this tendency affect Russian-Indian relations? Are there any concerns that the US would displace Russia's role in India or should we not worry?
Answer: Indeed, in recent years we have seen the fairly rapid development of Indo-US relations. There are many areas where the interests of the two countries coincide. India as a rising global power with dynamic economic growth (currently 7.6%, the world’s highest figure), growing demand and enormous human resources – no doubt it is very attractive to many countries that have every reason to set their sights on it as a “rich bride.“ Meanwhile, the large-scale practical tasks facing the Modi government, which are associated with ensuring the accelerated modernization of the country, largely explain the interest of New Delhi in foreign investment and advanced technology, including in terms of increasing its own defence capabilities. Of course, this leads to increased competition for the Indian market. Countries which are actively pursuing a partnership with India are motivated by a desire not only to seize a tidbit of this big cake, but also to try to ensure the participation of India in the implementation of their own far-reaching strategic plans in the region. Here's where the articulated promises come in, including the appropriation of India’s status as a “major defence partner.“ There is a good saying in Russian: “to promise – does not mean to marry.“ Anyway, the first attempt to make a step in that direction gave many a reason to doubt the possibility of the rapid implementation of overblown promises: the Senate didn’t approve an amendment to the legislation that would enable the revision of the terms for providing India with access to the latest technology.
We Russians are different from all other countries in one fundamentally important aspect – our honesty and sincerity of purpose. In our relations, there are no false bottoms.
Russia has always been, continues to be and will be sincerely interested in strengthening India’s power, global stance and authority as a powerful, independent and amicable state. This is the India which we want to see. The whole history of Russian-Indian relations clearly demonstrates this. In a changing world, an attractive bride, of course, deserves to be able to choose partners herself. However, when my Indian friends ask me whether Moscow is concerned about it, I try to reassure them: Russia is not jealous of its sister India regarding those who woo her, but warns against excessive trustfulness, so that potential “fiancés“ or newly acquired partners do not betray her high hopes or expectations.
It would be, to put it mildly, an exaggeration to say that some sort of drift towards the USA threatens the historically amicable and trustful ties between Russia and India. Russia has always been and remains a leading partner of India in such core industries like civil nuclear energy and military technology cooperation. Moreover, the largely stable principles of New Delhi’s balanced foreign policy do not presuppose deepening relations with one player at the expense of the interests of another one. The Indian authorities – both former and present – have repeatedly stressed it with regard to Russia. This, by the way, also applies to India’s participation in multilateral mechanisms and its position on regional crises.
As for the support of New Delhi in the global arena and, in particular, for it joining the NSG, it is not only the USA, but also Russia and many other countries, who believe in India’s membership in this group. As a responsible power with an impeccable reputation with respect to nonproliferation, which has a developed national system of export control, India would contribute to the strengthening of global efforts in the sphere of nonproliferation.
RT: In the short run, India is expected to join the SCO officially as a full member. How can India contribute to cooperation within the SCO? How can it help in the development of Russian-Indian relations?
Answer: India’s joining the SCO is a very important development. The summit in Tashkent saw the signing of Memoranda on the obligations of India and Pakistan as new full members of the organization. Now the passage of a number of procedures is necessary, including both countries' adoption of the legal norms of the SCO, to complete the process before the next meeting of the heads of states in Astana in 2017.
Let me emphasize it again: India enjoys solid economic potential and growing global and regional influence. Its interests fully coincide with the goals of the organization regarding ensuring stability in the Eurasian region, cooperating better to combat new threats, especially those originating from territory of Afghanistan, as well as broadening international banking contacts and investment collaboration. New Delhi is ready to contribute to the fight against threats facing our common region and to bring down hurdles impeding the movement of goods, services, capital and people, as Prime Minister Modi said in Tashkent. In this context, the prospects for the consolidation of integration efforts between the SCO, EEU and ASEAN look very promising.
And, of course, in this regard, we expect an increase in Russian-Indian regional cooperation, not only with respect to the aforementioned objectives, but also on issues related to the functioning of the North-South international transport corridor, on contributing to the restoration and peaceful development of Afghanistan, etc.
RT: Do you think that India and Pakistan's SCO accession can help to settle bilateral disputes between these countries and contribute to the normalization of relations?
Answer: The SCO does not provide for the settlement of bilateral discord. Moreover, one of the conditions of admitting India and Pakistan was a request not to involve their contentious bilateral issues in the organization’s agenda. Partners in New Delhi and Islamabad, despite their unresolved border problem and other complex themes in their relations, admit this condition. Currently they are working on the normalization of relations, including the coordination of the launch of a comprehensive dialogue, on the basis of available experience and the principles of noninterference, fixed in documents.
At the same time, we are expecting that the membership of India and Pakistan in the SCO will create favorable prerequisites for the expansion of contacts and strengthening of mutual trust.
RT: How can you appraise the interaction of India and Russia in fighting international terrorism? Are there any plans to strengthen and expand cooperation in this area? Does India show any interest in it?
Answer: India is one of our key partners in the fight against terrorism. We work closely on a bilateral basis, and within the framework of dedicated multilateral mechanisms. There is extensive cooperation between our special services and law enforcement agencies, an acting Joint Working Group on Combating International Terrorism, and the countries regularly exchange interagency delegations at multiple levels.
I would like to emphasize the proximity of the approaches of Russia and India, which have firsthand experience of all the bitterness and direst consequences of trans-border terrorism, and in combating this “plague of the 21st century.“ We firmly push for strengthening our respective joint efforts, keeping in mind the pivotal role of the UN and its mechanisms and resolutions, including those aimed at suppressing the financing of terrorism, the activity of foreign terrorist insurgents, the spread of extremist ideology and cyber-crime. We proceed from the premise that this fight shouldn't be linked with religion, but requires comprehensive approaches, including combating drug trafficking, the illegal weapons trade and money laundering.
In this context, we stand together in resenting the “double standards’ often employed in settling pressing regional problems, including the crises in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen and the fight against the “Islamic State,“ which is prohibited in Russia. Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of foreign states remain the founding principles of Indian foreign policy. We are absolutely united in this.
Russia supports the Indian initiative to promote the UN Comprehensive Convention on Fighting International Terrorism with its main emphasis on refusing to condone the state sponsorship of terrorism or the harboring of terrorists.
Russia and India are also similar in their approach to the strengthening of the current international drug control system within the framework of the UN, particularly the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and UNODC, as well as strengthening international information security by working out a universal international legal document under the aegis of the UN and through FATF, and other dedicated mechanisms.
RT: Is an exchange of delegations between Moscow and New Delhi expected in the near future? Are any high-level meetings scheduled?
Answer: One of the distinguishing features of Russia-India relations is regular and substantive dialogue, especially within the framework of the mechanisms of interaction formed at various levels – from the national leaders to the regional level.
The landmark event is undoubtedly the participation of President Vladimir Putin in the BRICS summit on October 15-16, 2016, in Goa. One day before, the leaders will hold their annual bilateral summit. September will see the meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission, co-chaired by Mr Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and Mrs Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of India. We are holding multiple meetings and contacts in different areas in order to prepare for these events. As mentioned above, talks between Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi within the framework of the SCO summit in Tashkent were quite significant as our leaders coordinated their positions regarding a wide scope of bilateral and multilateral issues and shaped future plans.
As a result, the second half of the year promises to deliver very important events in the development of cooperation between Russia and India. We aim to achieve quite weighty results.