Event ReportsPublished on Oct 05, 2007
The First Meeting of the ORF-Russia non-official Dialogue jointly organised by ORF and two Russian NGOs, Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Polity Foundation was held in Moscow in October 2007.
ORF, Russia hold first non-official dialogue

The First Meeting of the ORF-Russia non-official Dialogue jointly organised by ORF and two Russian NGOs, Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Polity Foundation was held in Moscow in October 2007. The Indian delegates were M.K. Rasgotra, President, ORF -- Centre for International Affairs, Ravi Shankar Prasad, former Information and Broadcasting Minister, Lalit Mansingh, former IFS, T.C. Rangachari, former Ambassador to France, Hari Vasudevan, Director, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata, V. Patankar, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, Sunjay Joshi, Senior Fellow, ORF and Nandan Unnikrishnan, Director -- Eurasian Studies & Senior Fellow, ORF.  The Russian side was represented among others by V. Nikonov, President, Polity Foundation and leading member of the Public Chamber of Russian Federation, S. Rogov, Head of the US and Canada Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, T. Shaumian, Head of India Department, Institute of Oriental Studies, F.Lukyanov, Editor, Russia and Global Affairs, D. Trennin, Carnegie Foundation, Moscow, I. Safranchuk, Political Analyst, World Security Institute, Moscow, Gregoriev, Oil and Gas Industry Expert and I. Diskin, Co-Chairman of Council for National Strategy.

The highlight of the meeting was an idea put forward by the leader of the Indian delegation, Mr. Rasgotra. He had referred to the close juxtaposition of five great powers in Asia -- Russia, China, India, Japan and US -- as an extraordinary situation. Each would be acting in pursuit of its own national interest. While major conflict among them could be ruled out, areas of dispute and contention exists all over the continent which could result in serious tension and confrontation. These would perhaps be avoided if these five powers were to meet at a sufficiently high level to prepare a draft code of conduct for their interaction, which could then be approved at a summit of the five. This should be followed by an all Asian Summit with Russia and the USA in it-to endorse a new Asian set of rules of international behaviours, in other words, a new “Asian Bandung”. The idea elicited a great deal of interest and favourable comments with the leader of the Russian delegation describing it as “The Jewel of the Meeting”.

Political Relationship

On the political front, the discussions demonstrate that both countries have striking similarity of views on the international situation. Both believe that it is necessary to push for greater multi-polarity in international relations. Both believe that a confrontational approach to contemporary problems in the world would lead to greater destabilisation rather than resolution of matters. Both stand for U.N. reforms and Russia supports India’s quest for a permanent Security Council seat.

Both also share similar views, albeit publicly unstated, on sensitive subjects such as China and its rise. This is an area where India should pursue closer and more intense consultations to understand the nature of Russia’s relationship with China and how likely it is to develop into a genuine long-term strategic partnership.

However, there are some Russian concerns that, if not addressed appropriately-both in terms of timing and substance-could have a negative impact on the entire relationship. These are Russian concerns about the depth of Indo-US relations. Moscow is not so much concerned with the growing closeness (the Kremlin behind the façade of holistic rhetoric is itself keen on improving its ties with the US) as much as with the long-term perspective the Indian political class has on its ties with the United States. Will India be prepared to be part of US strategies vis-à-vis China? How far is India willing to go to promote US strategic interest in Asia, especially in Central and West Asia? These are some of the questions troubling Russian policy makers. The lack of answers to these and similar questions appears to be constraining the evolution of a clear-cut India policy in Moscow.

Military –Technical Cooperation

There is growing negative trend of disputes and differences over pricing of equipment from Russia. Some of them are of India’s own making. Firstly, in the name of hard bargaining, India sometimes tends to put conditions that are unrealistic. India also does not take into account life cycle costs adequately when negotiating a contract. Resolution of these anomalies is critical to removing differences that could cause short-term damage to the otherwise healthy cooperation in this sphere.

On the other hand is the welcome trend towards greater cooperation in design and development of weapons platforms and equipment. Cases in example are: the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), the multi-role transport aircraft (MTA), and the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and its future development. Here Russia is moving away from its earlier policy of restricting itself to allowing licensed production and moving bilateral cooperation to a qualitatively new level. In the long-term, this appears to be a win-win situation for both sides. Russia gets the required financial backing for projects needed to sustain its military industrial complex.  India gets access to expertise that should help its drive towards self-reliance.

The perpetual issue dogging this particular aspect of the bilateral relationship has been the delay in supply of spares. However, a recent proposal to set-up supply depots in India could go a long way in removing this issue from the list of irritants.

Economic Ties

Even today, Indo-Russia trade is below the levels of 1990-91 when the annual turnover was over 5 billion dollars. There are of course objective reasons for this-lack of transport links, breakdown of banking ties, change in mindsets of business communities in both countries, lack of authentic information about business opportunities, etc. However, in this era of globalisation, it has become self-evident that any serious long-term relationship between two countries has to be based on solid economic ties. The two governments have been trying to address these issues, but so far not very successfully. One of the reasons for the inability could be the lack of engagement of the private sectors of the two countries in the economic arena. Regular interactions between business leaders of the two countries would be the best way to create awareness about business opportunities and remove any preconceived notions that may exist. Regular exchange of journalists from prestigious economic publications would also help in increasing awareness about the huge potential for bilateral trade and investment.

An area that requires special attention is the energy sector. Russia does have the world’s second largest oil reserves and largest gas deposits. India imports almost 70 percent of its requirements. The synergy is obvious, but barring the Sakhalin project, nothing tangible has materialised so far. Governments should promote cross investments in upstream as well as downstream activities.

Russian Demography

Russia according to conservative estimates is losing about 500,000 to 700,000 people every year. Combined with internal migration patterns, this is creating vast swathes of uninhabited land east of the Urals. Only approximately 9 million people populate the Asian territory of Russia-Siberia and the Far East-an area larger than almost all countries. This demographic crisis is a serious impediment to Russia’s economic development. There was some interest on the Russian side in exploring if some of the hardy North Indians could be interested in settling in Siberia as they had done in the cold northern areas of Canada. There was some discussion on this matter during the dialogue also and the general view was that the matter is worth exploring.

Science and Technology

India and Russia have a very successful programme of cooperation in science and technology. Many products and processes have been developed. Strategies have to be evolved to reach the fruits of this collaboration to the market. In addition, there is vast scientific community in Russia, which is underutilized, who could help India to push its efforts to boost science education within the country.

Cultural Links

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, cultural ties between India and Russia plummeted. This was accompanied by a similar downfall in interactions between academia of the two countries. While there has been some improvement in the past year much more needs to be done. The Year of Russia in India (2008) and the Year of India in Russia (2009) are programmes that are ideally suited to boost cultural and academic links in a short time. Indian cinema is still popular in the smaller towns of Russia as well as rural areas. Creating opportunities for smaller and regional broadcasters to have access to Indian films will help in projecting India to the Russian public.

It was agreed that the two sides would meet once every year, alternatively in Moscow and New Delhi and that they will next meet in New Delhi in October 2008.

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