Ahead of his visit to India on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to HT’s questions about key issues in an email interview.
QUESTION: Your upcoming visit to India is the first one since the government headed by Mr. Narendra Modi came to power; however, you have already met with him several times on the sidelines of international events. What results do you expect from the summit, primarily as far as Russian-Indian political, trade and economic relations are concerned?
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: As the President of the Russian Federation, I have been to India five times. I particularly remember my visit in October 2000, when we signed the historic Declaration on Strategic Partnership with the Indian partners.
With regard to my contacts with Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, that is true, we became acquainted on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Brazil this July. We also had meaningful conversations in Brisbane (Australia) in November at the meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the BRICS countries and during the G20 summit.
I note with satisfaction the commitment of the Indian leadership to searching for new promising areas of cooperation. I am convinced that the common aspiration to further develop our bilateral relations will help to achieve significant results at the upcoming Indian-Russian Summit.
We look forward to discussing specific steps aimed at strengthening the privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India. We will devote particular attention to expanding trade and economic links and boosting mutual investments. Serious preparatory work has been done during the past sessions of the Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation and the Indo-Russian Forum on Trade and Investment (New Delhi, November 5, 2014). Joint strategic projects include the construction of new units for Indian nuclear power plants, promotion of Russian Sukhoi Superjet-100 and MS-21 aircraft to the Indian market, introduction of the GLONASS system in the sectors of the Indian economy. Our priorities include building a butyl rubber plant, helicopter manufacturing, creating "a smart city" on the basis of Russian technologies, organizing assembly of industrial tractors.
We attach particular importance to the development of military and technical cooperation that is one of the main components of our strategic partnership. We will discuss in detail the current projects in this most important sphere related not only to the export of ready-made equipment but to close technological and industrial cooperation as well.
Furthermore, we will exchange views on current international and regional issues and on deepening foreign policy coordination in order to further strengthen security and stability in Eurasia and in the whole world.
Of course, we will discuss in substance how to give a new impetus to the bilateral ties in the humanitarian sphere, increase contacts between the citizens of our countries.
QUESTION: India has traditionally regarded Russia, and the USSR in the past, as a reliable "friend for all times." However, lately in India concerns have been raised about a sort of intensification of military and technical cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. In this light, do you think it would be appropriate to say that military and technical cooperation between Russia and India can be transformed?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Our countries have been maintaining military and technical cooperation for many decades. Moreover, I would like to emphasize that India is a reliable and time-tested partner.
If some transformations take place, it would be a completely different kind of transformations. As I have already noted, the high level of bilateral cooperation and trust allows us to start a gradual transition from the traditional producer-consumer model to joint development and production of advanced weapons systems. We already have examples of such effective cooperation, by which I mean the production of high-precision up-to-date BrahMos missiles and creation of a multifunctional fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
As for Pakistan, we have held talks on Russia's possible assistance aimed at improving effectiveness of counter-terrorism and antidrug operations. In my view, this kind of cooperation serves the long-term interests of all countries of the region, including India.
QUESTION: Russia and India are successfully cooperating in the field of energy. India is planning to expand this cooperation, including through participation in the development of oil and gas deposits in the Eastern Siberia. What is Russia’s position on this matter? What would it be realistic for India to expect? In your opinion, what are the prospects of supplying Russian natural gas to India through a pipeline?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Historically, Russia has exported most of its hydrocarbons to the West. However, European consumption is increasing too slowly, while political, regulatory and transit risks are on the rise. At the same time, the economies of Asian countries are growing rapidly. Thus, we are naturally interested in diversifying the destinations of our energy deliveries.
We expect to secure ourselves a role of a reliable energy supplier to the Asian markets. At the same time, we intend to boost economic growth in Russia’s Eastern Siberia and Far East regions and build new infrastructure there.
In view of the fact that Russia currently implements large-scale energy projects, we are interested in attracting new investments and technologies, including from India. As a good example of our mutually beneficial cooperation with Indian partners I could cite, in particular, the Sakhalin 1 project. A government oil and natural gas corporation ONGC is participating in it through its subsidiary, the ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL), which is a major Indian investor in Russia. Under the Sakhalin -1 project, over one million tons of oil is supplied to India annually.
The issue of participation by the OVL in hydrocarbons exploration in the Arctic is being actively discussed. This May, at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Rosneft and OVL relating to cooperation on Russia's Arctic shelf within an international consortium. Gazpromneft is also interested in networking with Indian oil and gas companies with a view to implementing Arctic projects.
As far as Russia's natural gas supplies to India are concerned, that issue needs thorough consideration. A preliminary analysis has shown that the cost of pipeline transportation may significantly exceed that of liquefied natural gas supplies. So this is largely the question of commercial feasibility.
For the time being, Russian liquefied natural gas transportation seems the best choice.
Let me remind you that last year the Gazprom Marketing and Trading Company already delivered to India two LNG shipments totaling 0.11 million tons in all. A long-term agreement on LNG supplies signed between the Gazprom Group and India's GAIL in 2012 entered into force in June 2014: it provides for the delivery of 2.5 million tons a year for the period of 20 years. India will start receiving LNG shipments as early as in 2017, or, in case the deadlines are shifted, by all means no later than in 2021.
We hope that our increased cooperation in the energy sector will contribute to India's sustainable and progressive social and economic development and help improve the quality of life of Indian people.
QUESTION: Russia is a long-standing partner of India in the domain of peaceful nuclear energy. What specific agreements are you planning to implement in the short term? What problems arise in this regard?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Nuclear energy cooperation is one of the pillars of our strategic partnership. We concluded two inter-governmental agreements in this field in 2008 and in 2010. The Road Map for the Serial Construction of the Russian designed Nuclear Power Plants in the Republic of India, which was signed in 2010, is currently being implemented.
The work on two energy units of the NPP "Kudankulam" is proceeding as scheduled. In October 2013, the first energy unit of that NPP was connected to the Indian power grid, and this June that unit reached its full capacity. The second energy unit is being prepared for commissioning.
Documentation to start construction of the second stage of that NPP has been nearly finalized. A general framework agreement for building the third and fourth energy units was signed in Mumbai this April.
I must stress that today NPP "Kudankulam" is the world's only nuclear power plant which meets all the "post-Fukushima" safety requirements.
Apart from building new energy units of the NPP "Kudankulam", we await the decision of the Indian government to allot a site for construction of a new Russian-designed nuclear power plant.
Our resources enable us to build up to 25 energy units in India. According to experts, however, even these units may not meet the needs of dynamically developing economy of India. This is why we intend to discuss the prospects for further development of our cooperation in the domain of nuclear energy during the upcoming meeting with Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. The policy document "Strategic Vision of the Strengthening Russian-Indian Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of the Atomic Energy" is also being prepared to be signed. Alongside with new energy units' construction, it provides for the exchange of the results of activities in the field of science, technology and innovation.
QUESTION: Russia and India are planning to increase their trade turnover. What can be said about the prospects of establishing a free-trade regime between our countries?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Russia and India have a huge potential of bilateral trade and economic cooperation. Alongside with that we have recently noted some decrease in bilateral trade due to unfavorable macroeconomic situation in the world. Last year's trade turnover amounted to 10 billion dollars, which is one billion less than during the previous year. It is important to reverse this trend.
A particular emphasis should be made on the development of high-technology areas of cooperation, namely nuclear energy, military and technical cooperation, space research, aircraft and automobile production, pharmaceuticals industry, chemical industry, information technologies and nanotechnologies.
We place great hopes in the Joint Working Groups on Strategic Cooperation and on Priority Investment Projects, being the new mechanisms established during the meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission in November.
India expressed an interest in concluding a free-trade agreement with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The experts of the joint group, which is being formed under the Eurasian Economic Commission, will decide what steps should be taken and identify categories of goods for which the markets may be opened and those for which it would be still too early.
Obviously, not everything depends on a trade regime. There are some areas to be improved, I mean logistics and securing favorable financial conditions for implementing deals. The issue of a possible transition to payments in national currencies is also quite relevant.
QUESTION: Has the change of government in India this May influenced the progress of the Russian-Indian special and privileged strategic partnership?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Relations between Russia and India have never been susceptible to momentary developments. At all historic times, regardless of political and public leaders, our countries remained reliable partners in deepening our multifaceted bilateral cooperation.
For example, we signed the above-mentioned Declaration on Strategic Partnership 14 years ago with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who led the government headed by Bharatiya Janata Party. A great role in elevating our relations to the level of special and privileged strategic partnership was played by the previous government formed by the Indian National Congress.
I am convinced that we will continue this fruitful work together with the new government in order to expand our multifaceted and mutually beneficial contacts, especially given the fact that as far back as he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat state Mr. Narendra Modi visited several times the Astrakhan Region, which has since established fraternal relations with that Indian state. Thus, today, we are happy to see friendly India to be led by a reputable political leader, who has already made a significant personal contribution to the promotion of the Russian-Indian cooperation.