This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Russia on April 13, 1947. In these 60 years, the world has undergone many changes but India-Russia relations have remained a steady beacon in promoting global stability. At the core of our bilateral ties is a strong foundation of mutual respect, understanding and trust.
Even before Independence, India’s thinkers and political leaders, including Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru, had expressed their empathy and appreciation for Russia and its people. Tagore’s Letters from Russia, published after his visit to the USSR in 1930, had a profound impact on India’s academic and literary community.
In one letter, Tagore writes: “In stepping on the soil of Russia, the first thing that caught my eye was that in education, at any rate, the peasant and the working classes have made such enormous progress in these few years that nothing comparable has happened even to our highest classes in the course of the last 150 years. The people here are not at all afraid of giving complete education even to Turcomans of distant Asia; on the contrary, they are utterly earnest about it.”
Those who introduced Tagore’s works to Russian readers included names like Anna Akhmatova, Ivan Bunin and Boris Pasternak. In the beginning of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy exchanged thoughts through letters on subjects such as spirituality, humility and love, and passive resistance.
Nehru’s visit to the USSR in 1927 left a deep impression on him about mass education, public health infrastructure and the economic progress made by the Soviet Union under the five-year ‘Gos’ plans. The foundations of close bilateral ties were laid during his visit to Russia in June 1955 in his capacity as PM and the subsequent visits by CPSU First Secretary Khruschev and Premier Bulganin to India later that year. A number of high-level exchanges, including by Indira Gandhi in 1966, 1971 and 1976 and by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, were instrumental in strengthening these ties.
Soon after Independence, our young nation received invaluable support from the USSR for the development of its economy, particularly heavy industries, infrastructure projects and technological expertise. Indians remember the generous Soviet assistance in building steel plants in Bhilai, Bokaro and Visakhapatnam, an aluminum plant in Korba and key power transmission lines and hydro-power stations, which Nehru called “the temples of modern India”. Russia’s contribution to the development of India’s defence and space capabilities is also remembered. India’s first satellite was launched by a Russian launch vehicle in 1975 and our first cosmonaut went into space on a Russian spacecraft in 1984.
The developments of the early 1990s put to test our unique ties but the relationship was reaffirmed with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993. In the last decade, the pace of growth in our bilateral activities has been exceptional. In a clear reaffirmation of the priority accorded to one another, India and the Russian Federation agreed to a Declaration of Strategic Partnership during the visit of President Vladimir Putin to India in October 2000.
Intensive high-level political exchanges reflect our long-term perspective, unaffected by tactical or short-term considerations. The relationship is free from ideological or power bloc considerations. It is not surprising, therefore, that this tie has never impaired either country’s relationships with third countries. Our shared vision for a peaceful, multi-polar and prosperous world is the basis for the strategic partnership and we agree that strengthening multilateralism is essential for a just and equitable world order.
India and Russia are fast-growing economies, increasingly important in global trade and investment. The India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation is an effective mechanism overseeing our ties. The Joint Study Group to examine ways to increase our bilateral trade to US $ 10 billion by 2010 submitted its report in July this year. Its implementation will ensure a quantum jump in our bilateral trade and economic cooperation. Earlier, the protocol on conclusion of bilateral market access negotiations in the context of Russia’s accession to the WTO was signed in 2006.
India and Russia have a long tradition of defence cooperation and the bulk of India’s defence hardware is of Soviet or Russian origin. The licensed production of T-90 tanks and SU-30 MKI aircraft and engines are examples of our strong defence ties in the post-Soviet era. Today, we have agreed to jointly design, develop, produce and market high technology defence products. The potential of such cooperation has been demonstrated by the joint development and production of the BrahMos cruise missile.
The long years of exchanges in the area of space have included cooperation in the launch of satellites and the visit of an Indian cosmonaut to the Salyut space station. In December 2004, two important bilateral agreements were signed: (i) Agreement on Cooperation in Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes; and (ii) Agreement on Cooperation in the Russian Global Satellite Navigation System (Glonass). The ‘YouthSat’ satellite for collaboration between academic institutions in Russia and India and Indian participation in Russian Science Mission Coronas-Photon are among the other important initiatives.
Energy security is central to India’s interests and Russia is a natural partner as one of the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas. India’s highest public sector investment abroad so far has been in Russia’s Sakhalin-1 hydrocarbon project. India views nuclear energy, as a safe, sustainable and environmentally-friendly source of energy, helping meet growing demand. The ongoing collaboration with Russia in the construction of two nuclear power units of 1,000 MW capacity in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, is an indication of the potential for further cooperation.
The 20-year-old Integrated Long-Term Programme (ILTP) for exchanges in the field of science and technology is India’s largest such programme. Over 550 joint research projects have already been successfully implemented. Further, seven Joint Centres of Excellence have been set up in powder metallurgy, polio vaccine production, advanced computing, bio-technology, gas hydrates, ayurveda and seismology. The focus now is to set up a technology centre to facilitate commercial application of technologies and to increase the effectiveness of ILTP. Cutting edge areas such as nano-technology deserve greater attention for joint endeavours in the future.
Mutual appreciation and respect for each other’s culture, history and way of life have characterised Indo-Russian ties at a people-to-people level. The forthcoming celebrations of the ‘Year of Russia’ in India in 2008 and the ‘Year of India’ in Russia in 2009 are aimed at strengthening the interaction and bonds.
We are both very diverse countries. Multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious societies need strong traditions of secularism and tolerance. Managing diversity in a democratic and federal framework is a challenge both countries have faced. Today, when we are told about the need for a dialogue among civilisations, we recognise that the successful holding together of our social fabric is a useful model for the global community.
The 21st century faces a number of challenges, such as armed conflict, underdevelopment, disease, hunger, terrorism, WMD proliferation and environmental degradation. Many of these problems cut across international frontiers. We trust that in an increasingly interdependent world, India-Russia friendship will promote an environment of global cooperation.
Pranab Mukherjee is Union Minister of External Affairs