When Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for Moscow on Wednesday on a two-day visit to attend the 16th India-Russia annual summit, expectations will be riding high with major agreements expected in the defence and nuclear sector.
The last edition of the summit, held in New Delhi in December 2014, was a roaring success, evident in the fact that 20 deals worth over $100 billion were signed in less than 24 hours. “India’s partnership with Russia is incomparable,” Modi had tweeted then.
This time on the defence front, a deal on the joint-production of 200 Kamov-226T helicopters may be the highlight. This will be a major boost to Modi’s Make in India initiative. The purchase of five Russian S-400 air defence systems, approved by the Defence Acquisition Council, will also be keenly watched.
On the nuclear energy front, a deal is expected on the fifth and sixth units of the Koodankulam nuclear reactors. And there are talks about a deal for Russia to build six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh.
Modi is scheduled to address a cultural event for ‘Friends of India’ at the Expocentre in Moscow on December 24. The prime minister is expected to return to New Delhi after the event.
The defence sector is perhaps the strongest component in India-Russia ties. “India’s defence production industry has a large Russian component to it, and during this visit that will increase,” says Anuradha Chenoy, professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
The economic trade, however, do not reflect the intensity of the ties. Export from India saw a marginal rise in 2014 vis-a-vis the previous year, but overall trade dipped — from $10.11 billion in 2013 to $9.51 billion in 2014. While export from India rose 2.6% during this period, import slipped by 9.2%.
“To put it in a nutshell, the strongest element of India-Russia partnership is defence, and the weakest element is our economic relationship. I think there will be an attempt by Modi to try and address this weakness through some of the strengths (in the ties),” says Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia expert and vice-president and senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
The lull in Russia-Turkey ties, after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 in Syria in November, presents an opportunity for India to boost trade ties. Kanwal Sibal, India’s ambassador to Russia from 2004 to 2007, feels that the visit should focus on “boosting economic and trade ties, especially after the collapse of ties between Russia and Turkey. Russia is keen on strengthening trade ties with India.”
Terrorism will also be discussed by both the leaders. The former ambassador was of the opinion that Russia might discuss Syria with India, but the spotlight “would be on what is happening in the Af-Pak region. The presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan is of concern for Russia. It is also a concern for India as destabilisation of Afghanistan and extremist activity there is a problem for us.”
Other than these, talks on fertilisers and hydrocarbons are also expected.
In recent years, growing India-US ties have seemingly taken the sheen off India-Russia bilateral ties, but it is just a temporary lull that appears in any friendship that goes back decades.