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10 Feb, 2023 09:36

The future of Russia-India relations is sound, just ask the diplomats who know best

Senior figures from both countries gathered to mark a key anniversary in bilateral relations, and define future possibilities
The future of Russia-India relations is sound, just ask the diplomats who know best

To mark the 30th anniversary of the landmark accord, and Russian Diplomats’ day on February 10, RT reports from a bilateral event where the scope of burgeoning relations between Moscow and New Delhi was discussed by the very diplomats who are building the bridges.

Russia-India ties have perhaps never been as productive as they are now, despite global geopolitical turbulence. Moscow’s close connections with New Delhi were established during the Soviet Union, and then bolstered by the India-Russia Friendship and Cooperation Treaty, signed in January 1993 during the visit of the then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin to the Asian country. 

To mark the 30th anniversary of the landmark accord, and Russian Diplomats’ day on February 10, RT reports from a bilateral event where the scope of burgeoning relations between the countries was discussed by the very diplomats who are building the bridges. 

‘Old horizons, new friends’

There are multiple narratives to the ongoing Donbass conflict, which started on February 24 last year, where truth is the biggest casualty.

This was the underlying message during a panel discussion entitled, “Next Steps in India-Russia Strategic Relationship”, held in New Delhi on Monday. 

Russian Ambassador to India, Denis Alipov, a career diplomat and an old India hand who assumed office early last year, was the keynote speaker at the event that delved into the topic of  “old friends, new horizons.” The context for the discussion was the ongoing geopolitical tensions accentuated by “Western sanctions at Washington’s behest”.

Alipov, a close confidante of the late Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin, a key figure in Russia-India ties, is fluent in Hindi – India’s official language – and also served in the Russian Embassy as a 23-year-old rookie diplomat during the signing of the landmark treaty in 1993.

The ambassador pulled no punches while accusing the US of being the “most belligerent nation”, which is erecting a roadblock to the creation of a multipolar world.

He admitted that “robust bilateral ties with India have come under stress” of late, due to the US crossing the red line over the Ukraine conflict.

Alipov maintained that Russia’s bilateral ties with India are of great significance because their “national interests coincide and there is equality in international relations while adhering to the tenets of the UN charter”.

Oil diplomacy

The veteran diplomat singled out the surge in India’s oil imports from Russia, a 36-fold increase representing 25% of New Delhi’s total crude supply, and the expansion of bilateral trade to $30 billion on the back of exponential demand.

India continues to be one of the biggest importers of Russian fertilizer products while refusing to bow down to Western sanctions, he added.

Alipov respected New Delhi’s “sovereign decisions” while advocating for a dedicated payment system that could circumvent dollar trade, an alternative transport route, a renewed focus on energy and infrastructure projects in the Arctic – over 50% of which are on the territory of the Russian Federation – and a North-South transport corridor.

He drew attention to easing Customs regulations and highlighted Russia’s core competencies in sectors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metallurgy, ship building, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing that can power diverse start-ups.

‘Calibrated propaganda’

The ambassador poked holes in Washington’s “calibrated propaganda” on Russia’s economic decline while underscoring Moscow’s contributions to nuclear plants in Tamil Nadu, southern India, and Rooppur, Bangladesh, the latter of which is likely to be commissioned later this year. He further criticized the US for a “bogus advertising blitzkrieg” highlighting the supposed “poor performance of Russian weapons in Ukraine.”

Alipov said Moscow is committed to New Delhi’s aspirations to become an Asian powerhouse – in particular the “Make in India” campaign which supports joint manufacturing of T-90 tanks, Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter jets, AK-203 assault rifles, and other weapons.

Russia is also helping India with production of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles and a supply of S-400 missile systems.

He pointed out Russia’s support in India’s ongoing space mission such as the Gaganyaan project, which envisages demonstrating human spaceflight capability by launching a three-member crew to an orbit of 400 kilometers for three days, and cryogenic space navigation.

The envoy was optimistic that more Indian students would travel to Russia for higher education. At present, around 20,000 go each year. The ambassador also hoped the Indian government’s New Education Policy (NEP) would enable Russian universities to create campuses in India.

The envoy also mentioned Moscow’s unwavering support for India in its attempt to secure a permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC), which has long been on New Delhi’s wishlist, despite what Alipov called a US “ploy to create a divide-and-rule policy”.

New Delhi’s compulsions

Kanwar Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to Russia from 2004 to 2007, weighed in on New Delhi’s compulsions vis-a-vis China, which has been cosying up to Moscow, to keep the “common enemy, the US” at bay.

He said that the Ukraine conflict is “existential” for both Russia and the US while India’s “up-and-down” diplomatic ties with Moscow predate its engagement with Washington.

Transnational Islamist terrorism threats

Pankaj Saran, who served as India’s ambassador to Russia from 2016 to 2018, said that although bilateral ties had drifted during the Yeltsin years, the bonhomie was revived after President Putin came to power in 2000.

Central Asia, he added, including Afghanistan, is key to India’s diplomatic outreach as New Delhi would have a common frontier if not for the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. 

Saran equated India’s predicament with radical outfits such as Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed with Russia’s issues with ISIS and Al-Qaeda, which have been active in parts of the Middle East.

Cultural exchange

Former Indian ambassador, Smita Purushottam, founder of the non-profit Do Tank “SITARA” (Science, Indigenous Technology and Advanced Research Accelerator), who grew up in Russia when the landmark friendship treaty was signed with the erstwhile USSR in 1971, emphasized how the Russian mission in India could engage in cultural exchanges.

Purushottam, who is proficient in Russian, urged the select audience to immerse themselves in the joys of Russian theater – “perhaps, the best cultural exposition in the world” – and works of Mikhail Bulgakov, best known for his novel “The Master and Margarita”, and other literary stalwarts from her beloved country.

Manish Chand, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, “India Writes Network” and “India and World” magazine moderated the session, which was held ahead of Russian Diplomats’ Day, to be celebrated on Friday (February 10).