In the end the India-Russia Summit appeared to be more about discerning perceptions about a fluid international climate than about signing dramatic bilateral deliverables. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have approached Thursday’s summit with differing outlooks. Mr Putin is looking to strengthen ties with India and other Asian powers to counter the isolation from the West that his country faces following European Union and US sanctions that have begun to bite Russia. India finds itself in an awkward situation concerning Moscow: It is grateful for Russia’s past contributions to its development, particularly in establishing its industrial base. It recognises the latter’s status as a P-5 power, a major hydrocarbon exporter and a source of weapons, nuclear materials and technology. But New Delhi has to be careful to not extend ties in a direction that will get it into the crosshairs of the West. Which is the probably why the idea of Mr Putin addressing the Indian Parliament, which was socialised in some quarters, never really took off owing to “scheduling issues”.
The Modi-Putin summit, therefore, rehearsed the trodden ground on nuclear energy with New Delhi agreeing to expeditiously identify a second site at Kudankulam as part of an effort to eventually build 10 nuclear reactors in India. Following a “roadmap” in 2010, they agreed on a “strategic vision” concerning nuclear energy that envisages more reactors and sourcing materials and equipment from Indian suppliers. There were no new defence deals but, in line with the PM’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, Russia has offered to manufacture one of its advanced helicopters in India. Energy deals were discussed; Indian companies are “expected” to “strongly participate” in new oil and gas projects in Russia while avenues for participating in petrochemical projects in each other and third countries will be examined.
The summit, however, afforded an opportunity to begin the process of addressing the problem of underachieving India-Russia bilateral trade, which stands at $10 billion. Russians will aim to invest in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, smart cities and freight corridors while Indian companies will look to pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, coal and energy. There are plans to jointly design and manufacture in a range of areas including space, defence technologies, aviation, new materials and ICT. These are all worthy ambitions, but Russia must know that governments can only do so much to encourage business — which is ultimately constrained by perceptions of risk.