Dec 27, 2008

World - Indo-Russian ties set to ascend new heights

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's maiden visit to India appears to be a new signal by Moscow to give a fresh start to Indo-Russian bilateral ties, which in 2008 lost past bonhomie and sheen apparently due to India's growing closeness to the US.

In spite of the officials of the two nations putting up a brave face, trade figures make it clear that without a vibrant economic dimension and business-to-business contacts, the bilateral relations are leading nowhere.

It is not only that traditional Indo-Russian four-decade strong close relationship is threatened, but question marks looms even on the extremely close defence and security ties.

The lack in warmth in bilateral ties is being attributed to Moscow being wary to warming up of New Delhi to Washington after the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and Russian leaders being engrossed in their own internal power configurations.

A sudden windfall foreign exchange income from the Siberian oil fields triggered by the massive soaring of oil prices, also contributed to the crisis, as it made the Kremlin leaders look more westwards.

As Washington and New Delhi appeared to be moving closer, the Russian-US ties on the other hand deteriorated over their confrontation on Moscow's intervention in Georgia. US plans to deploy anti-missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic, which the Kremlin sees as a threat to its second strike capability.

It was against this bleak backdrop, Medvedev made his maiden India visit, which was the first by any world leader after the Mumbai carnage.

The Russian President came with an apparent resolve to infuse a new blood to the Indo-Russian relationship in a background of two countries having emerged as global players in the economic field.

The green signal for putting the bilateral relationship on more business-to-business interface and giving it an economic dimension has been pushed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Though Putin faced constitutional limitations after taking over as the Prime Minister, he emerged as powerful as Nikita Khrushchev was in the Soviet era combining the post of the ruling party leader and the cabinet chief.

Putin had revived the bilateral relations and lifted them to the level of strategic partnership in 2000. Many of his ideas, including investment of rupee debt in hi-tech projects, could be materialised only after he took over the premiership.

The year 2008 opened up new avenues and it now up to the two countries to materialise them by involving new actors like private business and entrepreneurs, who look beyond the buyer-seller relations and focus on capacity building through investments.

Though so far ONGC remains the sole Indian entity to have invested in Russia, there is a move by Medvedev and Putin to invite more Indian businessmen to invest in the country on the pattern of Tatas and Birlas and others going on company-buying spree in West Europe and China.

The defence cooperation still remains the pivot of Indo-Russian relationship, with New Delhi investing billions of dollars in joint projects to build futuristic fighter aircraft, warships, submarines and missiles.

But problems still remain as the Indian armed forces are peeved at the delay in delivery schedules of weapon systems and quality of spares of frontline Russian armaments used by the security force.

But now efforts are on both by Moscow and New Delhi to forge joint ventures to build new hi-tech weapons with almost 50-50 investment sharing.

The relationships will get a further boost as 'Year of India' is to be organised in Russia next year which is expected to impact on the Russian society, underlining a new and confident India.

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