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With India and Russia barely two weeks away from celebrating their 70 years of bilateral ties, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), in collaboration with Moscow-based think tank Russian International affairs Council (RIAC), held a joint seminar on ‘India-Russia Relations and the Way Forward’ on 30 & 31 March 2017. One of the key objectives of the joint exercise was to seek potentials for broadening the scope of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Among others, the seminar focused on identifying and plugging differences in perceptions on certain key issues. Over a day and half, participants to the seminar - eminent security and foreign policy experts from the two participating institutions – extensively mulled, debated and strategized over ways and means as to how bilateral relationship between India and Russia could be put on a fast forward trajectory.
The Russian delegation was led by Dr. Andrey V. Kortunov, Director General, RIAC, and comprised of four other members – Dr. Vasilii Kashin, Mr. Sergey Strokan, Mr. Samar Shakil and Ms. Ksenia Kuzmina, while General NC Vij, Director, VIF, assisted by a broad array of policy experts – Vice Admiral Anup Singh, AVM Manmohan Bahadur, Ambassador Prabhat Shukla, among others - represented the VIF. The seminar extended over four sessions, with a session each devoted to examining issues in defence cooperation, economic engagements, geo-political dimensions in the bilateral relationship, and improving ties in science, education, culture and media.
In the opening session, both General NC Vij and Dr. Andrey Kortunov underlined that Indo-Russian relations, not only have stood the test of time but also holds special significance for future, keeping in view especially the emerging security challenges in the region as also India’s growing defence and economic imperatives. While the bulk of India’s defence inventory – over sixty percent – still constitutes the Russian origin, Russia is likely to continue to retain its pre-eminence on the Indian defence import for a foreseeable future even as India’s import bill is most likely to gross over $ 150-200 billion over the next ten years. While India is seeking greater economic engagements with Russia, especially in oil and gas and other sectors of the economy, Russia’s recent flirtations with Pakistan and opening up to the Taliban in Afghanistan in recent times are being perceived as dampeners to the bilateral ties. He urged for greater transparency on the part of Russia when it comes to regional affairs, especially China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dr. Andrey Kortunov, on his part, stressed that one of the key preoccupations for Russia has been managing both China and Pakistan, one a rising power and the other a failing state. He however stressed that most of the differences between Russia and India exist at the level of perceptions which could be substantially reduced by holding regular exchanges at multiple levels, including think tanks.
Joint conceptualization, research and production of weapons and platforms in India with an eye on for export, especially involving private players, development of north-south transport corridor between Russia, India, Iran, Central Asia and Europe, potential cooperation between India, Russia and Iran on terrorism in the Af-Pak region, developing tourism potentials, cooperation in media, student exchange programmes and exposure to each other’s society and culture through print and electronic media – a throwback to the old Soviet days - were a few amongst major takeaways from the two-day seminar. Both the Directors pledged to produce a joint report of the seminar and forward it to the powers that be in their respective countries for their consideration.