Prime Minister Modi’s visit to St Petersburg for the annual India-Russia Summit was in the backdrop of a pervasive impression in India that the bilateral relationship was on a downward curve.
Both leaders seemed to be consciously addressing this narrative. There was effusive cordiality –the Modi-trademark hug (though it was probably a first with President Putin), a hand-in-hand walk in a St Petersburg park and President Putin’s fulsome compliments to Mr Modi, at a public discussion, on his sagacity and strong leadership in defence of India’s sovereignty. There was a leisurely private dinner, followed by a tete a tete for over two hours.
The Joint Statement ticked all the boxes of the India-Russia engagement, with satisfactory formulations on terrorism, Afghanistan, our permanent membership of the UN Security Council and of export control regimes. There was a special focus on economic cooperation, with an interaction of Indian and Russian CEOs, as well as an interaction of PM Modi with 16 Governors (executive heads of regions) from across Russia to highlight economic opportunities in their regions. Agreements were signed for two additional units of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (to add to the two operating units and the two under construction).
More significant were the indications, from public statements and private briefings, that understandings had been reached on issues like Russian motivations in Afghanistan and its relations with Pakistan and China. These matters had been discussed in detail during two visits to Russia of NSA Ajit Doval. PM Modi specifically said in his press statement that he has had detailed discussions with President Putin and they share the same perspectives on Afghanistan, Middle East and the Asia Pacific.
In recent months, Russia (and President Putin himself) has been at pains to make the right public noises on Afghanistan, particularly stressing the importance of all stakeholders (specifically mentioning USA also in this category) to support the Afghan government in its efforts for security and national reconciliation.
On Pakistan, the Russians are believed to have reconfirmed that no military supplies are contemplated. The Russian Foreign Ministry also responded swiftly to a remark by the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson welcoming President Putin’s reported offer (to Pakistan PM Sharif at the SCO Summit in Astana on June 8-9) to mediate between India and Pakistan. Denying the mediation effort, it asserted, “the differences between Islamabad and New Delhi must be settled through bilateral talks based on the 1972 Shimla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration”.
The India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation meeting, at the level of Defence Ministers (June 22-23), agreed on a roadmap for bilateral defence cooperation, identifying specific activities and cooperation in political and military dialogue, joint exercises, exchange of visits, military cooperation and training of military personnel.
Review of ongoing projects included the joint manufacture of the Russian Ka226 helicopters, manufacture of naval frigates and major refits of submarines with progressive technology transfer to India, and acquisition of the S-400 air defence system. The perennial issues of spares and engineering support for Russian defence platforms are being addressed by transfer of technology (ToT) for component manufacture and maintenance workshops in India. It was reported that 485 lines have been identified for ToT to support the Su-30MKI aircraft fleet. A high-level Science and Technology Commission met in Novosibirsk (with Indian Defence Minister and Russian Dy PM Rogozin as co-chairs) to discuss new projects of cooperation in cutting-edge technologies.
June 30, 2017