Today, Russia and India mark the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. The beginning of such relations usually opens the door to developing full-scale multi-dimensional ties. But in the case of Russia and India, I would rather say that in April 1947, the two countries opened a new chapter in their already centuries-long history of bilateral relations.
Russia has always been interested in everything associated with India. Every Russian schoolchild knows about the Tver merchant Afanasy Nikitin, who visited India in 1466-1472, long before European travellers reached it. Russian-Indian trade began developing rapidly in the 17th century, with Astrakhan, a city in the lower reaches of the Volga, as its centre. Indian merchants settled in large cities on the Volga, and Russian traders received a permit to trade in India in 1696. Since the late 18th century, Russian scientists, researchers and cultural figures have been frequent guests in India.
This year, we will celebrate 60 years of India’s Independence. The Soviet Union announced its intention to officially recognise India and establish diplomatic relations with it several months before that.
It is a rare thing in international practice, but Russian-Indian relations have never been darkened by major differences, let alone contradictions. They have always been noted for mutual understanding of the similarities between Russia and India, a coincidence of long-term national interests and positions on key international problems.
A vivid example of friendly relations between the countries was the assistance Russia provided to the development of India’s economy and defences. In the late 1950s, we signed agreements on the construction of major industrial facilities that became the economic foundation of Independent India. Russia provided technical assistance in the construction of metal works in Bhilai, Bokaro and Visakhapatnam, an aluminium plant in Korba, a heavy duty electrical equipment plant in Hardwar, an engineering plant in Ranchi, a mining equipment plant in Durgapur, refineries in Barauni, Khojala and Mathura and a series of hydro and thermal power plants, and many other facilities.
In the 1970s, Russia and India joined forces in space exploration. Aryabhatta, the first Indian satellite, was launched in 1975 from the Kapustin Yar spaceport. In 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian man in space on board of the Soyuz T-11 spacecraft.
The end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and dramatic changes on the world stage in the 1990s became a trial by fire for Russian-Indian relations. We can now say confidently that we passed the test and convincingly showed our worth as a vital factor in global politics. A graphic proof of this is the successful implementation of the 1993 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and the 2000 Declaration of Strategic Partnership. The strategic partnership is based on the common understanding of multipolarity as the only choice for the world, on the responsibility of Russia and India to the future of civilisation, and their sober attitude to implementing their national interests.
Regular and intensive political contacts are a distinguishing feature of Russian-Indian partnership. The official visit by President Vladimir Putin to India on January 25-26 this year included the signing of a joint statement that sealed the common attitude of our countries toward major international problems. The parties also approved a joint statement on cooperation in peaceful nuclear power programmes.
Meetings between Russian, Indian and Chinese leaders have become regular. The first such trilateral meeting was held during the G8 summit in St Petersburg in 2006. We highly value our dialogue with India within the framework of the UN and at regional forums. Russia was happy when India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as an observer in July 2005.
The development of trade and economic relations is on the list of our coordinated priorities. Bilateral trade increased by more than 25 per cent, to $ 4 billion, in 2006, and Russian exports to India accounted for $ 3 billion of that figure. Our goal now is to reach $ 10 billion by 2010.
We have good traditions in the cultural sphere that have developed over decades. We have signed a programme of cultural exchange for 2007-09. Over 4,500 Indians are studying in Russia, more than ever before. The Year of Russia in India in 2008 and the Year of India in Russia in 2009 will be important events in our relations.
Russia highly values its relations with India. We entered the 21st century as strategic partners. The experience of 60 years of diplomatic relations is strengthening our belief that mutually beneficial Russian-Indian cooperation will be enhanced, benefiting our countries and helping to bring about global peace and stability.
Sergei Lavrov is Foreign Minister of Russia