NEW DELHI: Slew of Russian origin equipment are deployed in Ladakh as India faces challenge from China reminiscent of 1962 War when Soviet origin helicopters were transporting Indian troops also in same zone and this signifies depth of strategic partnership, according to Indian Ambassador to Russia B Venkatesh Varma.
“India and Russia enjoy a number of pillars which have been traditional pillars, defense being one of them. You may recall that in 1962, when we had a border problem with China, there were Mi-4 helicopters of Soviet origin which were transporting our troops to Ladakh. Many decades later, we face the similar situation of protecting our interests and supporting our troops. A lot of Russian origin equipment is being deployed there,” Varma told Doordarshan on the occasion of 20th anniversary of decoration of strategic partnership.
He also mentioned that the historical record shows that Russia has refrained from supplying combat equipment to one of India’s neighbors and that is a very positive element in bilateral relationship.
Referring to Modi-Putin personal chemistry, the envoy noted, “They have met 22 times since 2014. They have spoken 4 times this year on the telephone. President Putin greeted PM Modi on his birthday. PM Modi reciprocated this gesture and congratulated President Putin on 7th of October. So taking forward this special and privileged relationship between our two leaders is indeed a great asset. In fact, I think it is the most important asset in this very complex world, when we have leaders of both countries taking care of the relationship in a long term perspective. I think that gives a certain amount of stability and predictability that would not be otherwise available.”
“PM Modi has emphasized that this old traditional relationship has to be modernized and diversified. One area of diversification is defense and defense production. More than 60-70% of India’s armed forces draws their equipment from Russia. We have signed an agreement, that henceforth, spare parts for Russian origin equipment will be manufactured in India. One of the flagship programmes for Make in India defense sector is the agreement between the two countries for the manufacture of Kalashnikov AK-203, which is one of the most modern assault rifles in the world that will be manufactured in Korwa in UP as part of Make in India programme. The Make in India programme will go forward with the active support and participation of Russian defense industry and this is one of the main items of cooperation and the priorities for the future,” Varma pointed out.
With respect to BrahMos, it is one of the most successful joint ventures bilateral relationship. “It was launched with the blessings of our former President Dr. Kalam, who was the Guiding Spirit of the BrahMos program. Today the BrahMos program has evolved into one of the best cruise missile programs in the world, this has been accepted by all our three services and naturally, there is great interest from third countries to import the BrahMos missile that is produced as a result of a joint venture that is established in India. Now, joint ventures are the way to move forward.”
Varma also claimed that there is great interest in Russian defense industry to cooperate with the defense industry in India, both in the private sector and in the public sector to go forward and establish joint ventures for the future. “We expect joint ventures not only to be established for the manufacture of spare parts, but for full weapon systems, and the defense production procedures that were announced just a few weeks ago provide great opportunity for Russian industry and we see a lot of enthusiasm emerging from the Russian defence industry to come and partner with India, their traditional partner, but the partner with the growing technological capability, very positive investment environment, as well as a great opportunity to explore third country markets. “
The BrahMos missile will be taken forward for third country exports consistent with India’s interests, political and security interest and of course export control norms.
Similarly, India has long-standing relations in terms of investments in Russian energy sector. Sakhalin-I investment, which was made in the early 2000s, has today yielded more benefits than any other foreign investment made by India globally. Subsequently, India has invested more than $13bn in the Russian energy industry. Be it Sakhalin-I, be it Vankor, be it Taas Yuriakh, Imperial Energy and in other sectors. Today, GAIL has established a long-term relationship with Gazprom for supply for LNG.
Similarly, Rosneft has a long time supply relationship with Indian Ministry of Petroleum Natural Gas. “We are looking for Russian participation in our energy sector or domestic gas sector including the use of LNG for transportation. As we move forward within the next decade, more and more of our cars and trucks in India will run on LNG. There is great interest in Russia with our experience with CNG. As you know, one of the most successful ventures in Delhi has been the conversion of public transport into CNG and there is great interest in Russia in learning from the experience that India has in this sector.”
“Similarly in terms of coking coal, we see our steel industry looking for predictable, long-term commercially competitive supply arrangements and we are presently working on that.”
The nuclear sector is, again, very important. “We should remember that Russia reached out to us to support India at a time when there were severe nuclear restrictions applicable to India. This was several decades ago and the Kudankulam project was conceived at a time of great difficulty for it. But, since then much has moved, much has changed for India for the India-Russia relationship and as well as in the international standing of India in the international system. India-Russia are also engaging in cooperating in the Rooppur nuclear power plant project in Bangladesh and there is great interest on the part of our friends from Bangladesh to involve India in a more extended way in cooperation with Russia taking forward our cooperation. Similarly, there is such interest from the Gulf from Central Asia and from Africa.”
Referring to possibilities of mutual investments in the Russian Arctic, the Ambassador said, “As you know, we have already invested in Vankor as there is great interest in the Eastern cluster. The Eastern cluster is a project of oil and gas in the Russian Arctic which will keep Russia as one of the largest energy producers well into the next century. We see three major clusters of energy producers -one is in the Gulf area, the second is Russia, the third is the United States and for our energy security, India is keen that we cooperate and engage with all three and I’m very happy to inform you that our progress with Russia is very, very encouraging.”
Prime Minister Modi attended as the Chief Guest for the Eastern Economic Forum meeting in September 2019 when he announced that India would be actively engaged with the Russian Far East. In fact, he announced a new policy called the Act Far East policy, part of which involves our interest and engagement with Russia not just with the Russian Far East but the Arctic. We envisage our Energy Bridge not just from Vladivostok, but from Yamal to Vladivostok, and Vladivostok to Chennai, to our Eastern seaports. These are moving forward and I am very confident that Russia will continue to be a major partner for us in the energy sector in the decades to come.”
Referring to space cooperation, the envoy recalled, “There are those of us who remember that our first two satellites – Aryabhatta and Bhaskara were launched on top of Soviet satellites. Rakesh Sharma, who is still a hero for several of our people, was launched on a Soviet space launch vehicle. These are the old bonds of friendship that are blossoming into new frontiers of cooperation. In 2018, during the Prime Minister visit we signed an MoU with Russia for cooperation in the field of human space exploration. As part of that, I am happy to report that there are 4 smart, professional Indian Air Force officers presently undergoing training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut training centre outside Moscow. They have been here throughout this year, and despite the COVID pandemic, their training program has progressed unimpeded. I had an opportunity to meet them. Very impressive set of pilots, I am sure they will do our country proud. They have been highly assessed by the Russian instructors who are very, very impressed by their dedication and professionalism. They complete their training in Russia in March 2021.
Cyber, Artificial intelligence is another area of great interest. There is great interest in Russia that India is well positioned to be one of the cyber digital superpowers in the coming decade. “We have the cheapest digital costs anywhere in the world, we have immense talent, our unicorns are deeply innovative.. We have equally good talent, so the marriage between Russia and India in the cyber and digital sector will yield tremendous results.“
“During the COVID pandemic, I think, the true strength of both countries have come to the fore. Despite the COVID pandemic restrictions, India supplied over 80 tonnes of medical supplies and equipment to Russia, and it was greatly appreciated by the Russian people. In fact, the Kremlin issued a special statement appreciating PM Modi’s initiative to supply hydroxychloroquine at a time when there is great shortage across the world,” he said, adding, “Both India and Russia, their leaders have announced, that their production of vaccines in India, the vaccines that we produce along with foreign partners, are not just for our own consumption, but for the betterment of humanity. That being the case, I think we see the partnership between India Russia as one of our most relevant partnerships as we go forward and take on the continuing challenge posed by the COVID pandemic the world over.”
India-Russia relations are poised for further growth in the decades to come. They have the strength of an old banyan tree which has very deep roots, but an old banyan tree also constantly sprouts new branches – diversification of our strategic partnership, strengthening of the traditional pillars of defence, energy, nuclear and space into regional cooperation, into scientific cooperation, into cooperation involving our youth. Prime Minister Modi has paid particular attention to this aspect.