Keynote address by H.E. Mr Nikolay Kudashev, Ambassador of Russia to India, at the seminar “New trends in Indo-Russian Relations: the Way Forward”
It is a privilege to speak before such a distinguished gathering with luminaries of Russian and Indian academic circles being present both on the dais and in the audience and contributing to the comprehensive discussion on the prospects of Russian-Indian relationship.
Our political ties are one of a kind, rich in substance and unique in terms of mutual trust and affinity. Annual bilateral summits that have been held uninterruptedly since 2000 provide an unfailing proof of relevance and dynamism of such relations. I would not bore you with listing all visits and meetings that have happened between Russian and Indian leaders. Let me draw your attention only to one fact. To my mind, it speaks volumes that in the year 2017 all members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, that is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance and at that time Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, visited Russia. Within my memory, such an intensive sequence of visits happened for the first time in the modern history of Russia-India relations. Obviously, we have a lot to talk about and a lot to offer to each other.
At the same time, it is an open secret that our economic cooperation, specifically trade turnover, has been considerably lagging behind our vibrant political dialogue. With the set target to reach 30 bln in trade and 15 bln in investments by 2025, we spare no effort in devising new ways of spurring economic activity and encouraging investors. Let me touch upon a few promising areas that may become true growth drivers.
Construction of nuclear power plants is an established area of cooperation where the Russian company Rosatom shares its razor-edge technologies and expertise with Indian friends. With announcement of the second site in India for construction of Russia-designed NPPs, which, I am hopeful, will come around in the near future, our cooperation in peaceful atomic energy will become even more solid. However, we are eager to move even further by jointly entering NPP projects in third countries. The first such project is on the anvil with NPP Ruppur in Bangladesh where Russia is contributing in terms of equipment supply while India may provide technical assistance and training. A respective agreement is in the pipeline. Be such cooperation successful, we will be able to offer our joint services to other countries as well.
The year 2017 saw the largest investment in the history of modern India, that is the acquisition of Essar Oil Limited by the Russian Rosneft company, with the total deal amounting to 12,9 bln US dollars. While this being a milestone event, we should diversify our investment baskets by encouraging smaller investors to enter each other’s markets. To put it simply, we need to unleash the potential of small and medium businesses. I am convinced that with the investment protection agreement back in place, economic operators on both sides will feel more secure and inclined towards large-scale commitments and long-term presence.
We see much promise in enhancing interregional cooperation. Last March, India saw a visit of a high-ranking delegation from the Russian Far East, which was reciprocated by a representative Indian official and business delegation led by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September. We are also very enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by numerous regional investment and business forums held in various Indian regions and showcasing their potential. “Vibrant Gujarat” as a pioneer in this sphere has become a major investment attraction platform in its own right and we see more coming. Frequent and well-prepared business missions and roadshows will increase awareness about the potential of Russian and Indian regions and bring about much-required dynamism.
Some may justifiably point out the geographical distance between Russia and India which hampers bilateral trade. In my view, when there is a will, there is a way. In this respect, I see much potential in full operationalization of the International North South Transport Corridor and launch of the “green corridor” facilitating customs formalities. The Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok has produced another interesting idea of reviving the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor, which could drastically, almost by half, shorten the time required for goods and commodities to reach the markets of each other.
Bilateral military and technical cooperation, which goes back to the early days of the Indian republic, is also undergoing qualitative transformation reflecting the realities and requirements of the modern day. First of all, we are actively moving away from the outdated “buyer-seller” approach towards new mutually beneficial mechanisms. The format of Military Industrial Conferences launched last March is aimed at promoting substantially different mode of interaction involving joint research, development and production of advanced defence systems. In this respect the ambitious “Make in India” initiative offers unlimited opportunities, with engagement of Indian private defence manufactures being another new feature.
As historically time-tested friends, Russia and India are well positioned to further build up mutually beneficial strategic cooperation in future. Dynamically changing global and regional landscape needs to be reflected by our growing partnership based on mutual understanding and trust.
It is our common goal to continue, amid undiminishing tendencies of international uncertainty and geopolitical engineering, our dedicated efforts to strengthen the central role of the United Nations, democratization of global governance, respect for international law and multipolarity, unacceptability of interference into domestic affairs as well as double standards and unilateral approaches to solving problems, including by unlawful sanctions. Along with that, when we deal with various regional crises, it is important to take into account interests of all involved nations, which is critical to achieving lasting solutions, be it in Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula, etc.
We welcome, hence, the straightforward desire of Moscow and New Delhi to promote our shared principles and responsibilities for maintaining international stability by working closely within multilateral fora, first of all the UN-led bodies, BRICS, G20, the WTO.
With the historical Indian accession to the SCO as a full-fledged member, this organization entered into a new stage of its development as a responsible player providing for a wide range of regional economic, infrastructure, energy, people-to-people and security cooperation opportunities.
Special focus in this regard will be given to eliminating new challenges and threats emanating from Afghanistan, including terrorism, drug trafficking and religious extremism and radicalization directly linked to the national security of our countries. Peaceful settlement in this war-thorn country needs primary attention. From our perspective, ways forward in this direction are offered by the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group with Kabul as its permanent co-chair as well as the Moscow Dialogue. Obvious advantages of both mechanisms are that they are aimed at comprehensive support to Afghanistan by shaping up relevant consensus of the regional countries, which are directly affected by instability spread from there. We are looking forward to solid Indian contribution towards this end.
Needless to say that we are among the most interested nations in terms of promoting regional connectivity. Our priority is to develop great Eurasian partnership involving a synergy of integration activities pushed forward in the framework of the SCO, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and ASEAN. Start of negotiations between India and the EEU is on our immediate agenda. In this connection, I am delighted to announce that January 1 saw entering into force of a renewed EEU Customs Code, which will considerably simplify and expedite customs procedures for the Member-States. The abovementioned North-South Transport Corridor also contributes to greater trade and transit connectivity between South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, Caucasia and Europe.
Of course, I cannot but mention the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which involves almost all the countries in the SCO region. The member-states are already implementing various agreements with China under the BRI. As far as Russia is concerned, we see this project purely from the economic perspective, and we do believe that it would substantially contribute to the regional connectivity.
Indian concerns regarding the BRI, particularly the CPEC, are well known. We would like to see India and China finding a mutually acceptable way how to address them. For this purpose, a dedicated and forward-looking dialogue between the two countries is important, and we would be happy to support it.
By the way, I would like to recall the very successful and promising meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the three countries in the format of RIC, which was held in New Delhi last month. It is our strong belief that the decision to further expand and deepen our trilateral cooperation would also contribute to building trust between India and China as a core factor of the Eurasian stability.
The Russian-Indian cooperation in the Asia-Pacific should be channeled to prioritize a collective approach to the regional issues. That region increasingly becomes an epicenter of the world economic and political activities, and this is another reason why we have to handle it carefully by promoting dialogue mechanisms in order to solve various problems in a most efficient way.
India is one of our most important partners in the Asia-Pacific, and we cherish the level of our mutual understanding and cooperation already established with regard to our involvement in the activities of the multilateral bodies such as the East Asia Summits, ASEAN Regional Forum, “ADMM+”. In our view, India should play a bigger role in the regional affairs, and Russia is very supportive of the Indian intention to become a member of APEC.
It is our principled position to upgrade the dialogue on the inclusive and undivided regional security architecture in the framework of the East Asia Summit involving all its member-states, so that we would be able to effectively use this mechanism in order to find collective solutions to our common challenges and threats as well as raise awareness of sensitive interests of all players. At the same time, we should avoid creation of any alienation lines not to antagonize anyone.
To sum up, our global and regional priorities are largely coinciding or similar. We take pride in our ability to have profound, open-minded, sincere and forward-looking discussions that, frankly speaking, not many countries are able to maintain. It is important to note that our mutual engagements are not directed against anybody else’s interests and promote unifying and constructive agenda.
Looking ahead, Russia and India have a very solid historical and institutional ground as well as traditionally enjoy mutual affinity, which gives us every opportunity to continue strengthening our cooperation bilaterally and multilaterally in the near future and beyond.