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Oct 24, 2012

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India Russia Relations: Annual Summit Challenges 2012

        The new vectors of commercial and high technology cooperation are important for Indo Russia relations, it may be worth the while to await finalization of agreements on these rather than go through the summit as a matter of routine.

A cryptic press release by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi stated that the official visit of President of the Russia Mr. Vladimir V. Putin, for the 13th Annual India-Russia Summit will be on 24th December. The visit was earlier expected on 31 October/1 November. The delay has raised much speculation on reason for the postponement. While officials have been as usual evasive stating that dates are peripheral to the overall relationship and 24 December was decided based on mutual convenience, it is quite apparent that the preparatory work for the Summit has not been completed. This was acknowledged as much in the briefing to the media by the spokesperson of the MEA on 23 October.

The issues that seem to have delayed agreements were quite obvious from the joint media Interaction of India’s External Affairs Minister and Deputy Chairman of Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin on 15 October. These are summarized as follows-

Kudankulam Nuclear Plant. Commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear plant Unit 1 and 2 was to be held by December 2011 but has been delayed due to protests by the anti nuclear lobby in India. It is apparent that this would have to reach a degree of finality for the comfort of the summit. Another related issue is of techno commercial negotiations for Kudankulam Units 3 and 4. This may entail a liability clause which is likely to remain a point of contention between India and Russia and has possibly not been resolved so far.

Review of Haripur Nuclear Plant Site. With West Bengal State government objecting to location of the proposed nuclear plant in Haripur, an alternative site is under consideration. This should reach some conclusion for export of nuclear plant technology is one of the key vectors in India Russia collaboration.
Russian Investments in India. There are worries over security of Russian investments in India particularly Titanium Products Pvt Ltd and Sistema (System Shyam Teleservices) after the rollback of the 2 G licenses allotted to the latter. Sistema has not opted for fresh 2 G bids and is attempting to settle the issue in courts. Russia is possibly looking for a more proactive approach from the Indian side. Mr Dmitry Rogozin stated as much during his media interaction on 15 October, “I would like to say that the governments should demonstratively, and I would like to highlight this word demonstratively, help the business representatives to solve the issues that emerge during this contact with bureaucracy --.”  He was more emphatic in stating that the rules should not be changed midway and said, “we should never reconsider the rules of the game after the game has begun, and we should follow the rules till the game is over, and only then should we go back to the discussion. It is important to fulfill the agreements achieved”.

Cooperation in the High Technological Field. Russia is keen to extend cooperation in high technology field from military to the civil field. The particular area of focus is satellites, aircraft and communication systems. There are negotiations pending on these issues which would have to be streamlined before the summit.

On the defence front things seem to be reasonably streamlined, though the delay in delivery of the aircraft carrier Gorshkov nee INS Vikramaditya to India has been in the eye of the storm. This case seems to have been cleared during the twelfth meeting of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGCMTC) which is the annual apex event of the two defence ministries in the country was held in New Delhi on 10 October 2012. The Indian delegation was led by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony and the Russian by Shri AE Serdyukov, Defence Minister of Russia.

Just as in the case of President Vladimir Putin’s Visit there had been speculation over delay of the Defence Minister’s meet which was postponed from 04th to 10th of October. Sources in India indicated that possibly Russian Defence Minister Mr  Serdyukov was staying back to meet with the Pakistan Army chief, General Kiyani who was on a visit to Moscow from 4th to 6th October. However avoiding controversy, Mr Serdyukov, stated at the Press meet in New Delhi, "I could not make it but the only reason I stayed back was due to participation in certain activities run by my supreme commander President Putin. It was the release of new transport aircraft IL-476. It is a huge contract and it is very promising," he said.

The delay in the Annual Summit should not be a major cause of concern inasmuch as the underlying issues that have caused the same are resolved to mutual satisfaction. This being an annual event it has been consistently held each year though there have been many times when this has been pushed back as at the summit level full scale convergence on various contentious issues is essential. While Mr Putin has in the past delegated the Prime Minister for the summit when he has not been happy with progress of the dialogue this time there are major commercial issues including disqualification of the Russian telecom major Sistema which are a concern whereas in the past these were also related to defence and security ties. The new vectors of commercial and high technology cooperation are important for Indo Russia relations, it may be worth the while to await finalization of agreements on these rather than go through the  summit as a matter of routine.

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