In spite of the fact that historically Russia and India have accumulated a very positive experience of bilateral relations, today they are mostly moving by the inertia of the past. At the same time the new tendencies and prospective trends are not gaining ground at a faster pace.
These were the issues discussed at the recent joint ‘brainstorming’ session of prominent Russian and Indian experts in Moscow. This most representative roundtable session in the recent years was the fruit of joint efforts of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Indian Council of World Affairs.
It is a paradox that on one side India gains a ‘plus’ point in Russia’s perception and evokes greatest interest among the Russians in comparison with the rest of the Asian nations. On the other side, some sturdy stereotypes play a negative role. Often India is seen as a poor and developing country.
Such perception is the evidence of deep, fundamental undervaluation of the stormy transformation underway in India. Even when talking about BRICS in Russia, China is more often mentioned as Moscow’s main partner. India is mostly seen as a regional power, primarily of importance for South Asia.
During the discussions it was noted that the Indian attitude towards Russia is undergoing a similar transformation. In their opinion, a contradictory situation is emerging in India. On one hand Russia evokes a positive association among the Indian elite and society as a country, with which unlike with China, India has no substantial differences or friction.
But at the same time there is a possibility that for India, Russia would gradually retreat to the background. In many official Indian documents if ever Russia is mentioned, it is more for rhetoric than a practical purpose. The risk is not in anti-Russian sentiments spreading among the Indians, but in the possibility that Russia could be simply squeezed out by the Western competitors in the fight for India.
In the sphere of trade and economic relations, for a long time there is a talk about the need to boost the bilateral Russia-India annual trade to the level of USD 10 billion. Even this figure is insignificant given the potential of the two countries. It is not much even in comparison with Russia’s trade with major European nations and beyond any comparison with Russia-China economic cooperation, where the goal of achieving annual trade turnover of up to USD 200 billion has been set.
The experts underscored that Moscow should more actively build relations with India by imparting a new wide vision and higher level of interdepartmental coordination. As a result, India should become a strategically important long-term investment for Russia. Relations with her should be embedded in the list of national priorities and should be developed without expecting instant profit.
How to achieve this? One way of doing this is that each meeting of the leaders of Russia and India and signing of intergovernmental documents should be followed by the inking of a long list of more concrete agreements, projects and measures. The business associations, civil society institutions and experts should be involved in this work. A complex inter-departmental programme should be worked out to create a mechanism for cooperation at all levels.
A roadmap for next 5-10 years laying clear cut tasks, actions and timeframe and identifying persons responsible for their implementation would be an ideal instrument. It is quite possible that the issue about the need for such ‘roadmap’ could be raised at the forthcoming Moscow summit between President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the year-end.
From the Russian side, prominent scholars and experts from the Institute of Oriental Studies, Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Foreign Ministry and Federal Agency on International Cooperation participated in the ‘roundtable’ meeting. The Indian side was represented by heavyweights from ICWA – oldest experts organisation in international studies, Observer Research Foundation and other leading academic and research centres of India.
The Voice of Russia
May 28, 2013