Interview by H.E. Mr. Nikolay R.Kudashev, Russian Ambassador to India

Russia and India have a long history of close and cordial relations. Can you comment on the contemporary relationship between the two nations?

First of all, it gives me immense pleasure to share with you some ideas regarding historically long friendship between Russia and India on this special occasion – National Day of Russia, which we celebrate on 12 June. And it makes me very proud to work here as Ambassador, since our past, present and future achievements, which we are working for very hard, provide a feeling of deep professional and personal satisfaction.

The contemporary Russian-Indian relationship has got many characteristics – it is comprehensive, unique, coherent, trusted and encompassing all possible areas of cooperation. It remains an increasingly growing factor in the world affairs and integral part of the development strategies of each other. Our common unequivocal commitment to the UN centrality and international law, especially during the current Indian non-permanent UNSC membership, helps us to proactively participate in searching an inclusive response to emerging challenges and rapidly changing geopolitical scenario and turbulence. We share similar civilizational values, common interests and proximity of approaches to the fundamental issues.

Our dialogue is led by the leaders, who pay a lot of personal attention to it, and the summit level decisions. President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi interact with each other regularly, and, generally, meet every year.

In 2020, we marked the 20th anniversary of the bilateral strategic partnership and the 10th anniversary of its elevation to the special and privileged status.

Our positive and forward-looking dialogue, which is not targeting anyone but promoting a unified agenda, is a testimony of the advanced and mature level of the relations between our two friendly nations.

The Russian-Indian cooperation is ever-expanding. It covers not only traditional areas of mutual engagements such as defence and energy, but also reflects growing interest to promote diversified economic and connectivity interaction, vibrant people-to-people ties and solid international coordination. Eventually, the accumulated bilateral background enabled us to develop a model of partnership to tackle the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is humanitarian and non-politicized in nature and with no artificial obstacles.

Starting from the very moment, when in March 2020 the global scale coronavirus problem erupted, we supported each other in a big way having prioritized our historically strong cooperation in the health sector, as well as assistance to other countries and contribution to the performance of relevant international organizations, first of all WHO, G20 and BRICS.

It has opened up a new dimension in our strategic partnership with the focus on vaccines research and development, advanced scientific dialogue and technology exchanges dealing even with the new strains of coronavirus. The Russian vaccine Sputnik Vis a part of the Indian national immunization drive, its mass production has started here, and it speaks for itself. We can say that it is some sort of another breakthrough, but most importantly – this partnership is saving lives, and it makes us even more encouraged.

The level and quality of our mutual support makes us very proud. In 2020, India supplied a huge amount of vital medicines to Russia on the exceptional basis. Starting from this April, Russia provided about 40 tons of humanitarian assistance to India comprising of oxygen concentrators, lung ventilation devices, medical monitors, life-saving drugs and showing consistent solidarity with the Indian people facing dramatic second wave.

At the same time, we are moving forward in all other areas as well. For the second half of 2021 – depending on the epidemiological situation – we expect the next Russian-Indian summit, which was not held last year due to the pandemic, the BRICS and SCO summits and stand-alone sessions of our two bilateral Inter-Governmental Commissions – on economic, scientific and cultural cooperation, as well as on military and military-technical cooperation.

Following the decisions of the XX jubilee Vladivostok Summit in 2019, both sides undertake concrete steps to explore investment, infrastructure and natural resources opportunities in the Russian Far East and Arctic. We are doing feasibility study for the Vladivostok-Chennai direct maritime sea route, working on implementation of the North-South international transport corridor project.
We are focused on removing trade barriers ,finalizing an updated investments protection agreement. Discussion on the FTA between the Eurasian Economic Union and India is going on.

As of now, Russia is the only foreign country, which is in practical terms involved in the Indian nuclear power sector – we develop the Russian-designed Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu comprising of 6 blocks, which involves localization and training of the Indian specialists, cooperation in related industries like medicine, disaster management, etc. Moreover, Russia and India successfully implement the Rooppur NPP project in Bangladesh.

There’s a persisting common interest for the joint development of the large hydrocarbon fields and the long-term oil and gas supplies to India. The leading Indian companies are joining various Rosneft Oil Company led projects in the framework of the large “Vostok Oil” cluster covering huge resources in the Russian Far East and the Arctic zone. OVL, Oil India, Indian Oil Corporation and others are also involved in Vankorneft, Taas-Yuriakh and Sakhalin-1 and other flagship projects in Russia.

Advanced cooperation is going on in metallurgy, petrochemicals, gas fuel, railways, inland water infrastructure, civil shipbuilding and pharmaceuticals.

In this regards, it is worth noting some new promising projects – the Russian metallurgy company from Novolipetsk is building a transformer steel production plant in Maharashtra (its launch is expected in 2022). The Reliance Sibur Elastomers Private Limited, a joint venture, has set up the South Asia’s first butyl and halogenated butyl rubber production facility at Jamnagar with annual productive capacity is estimated at 120 thousand tons of butyl rubber and up to 60 thousand tons of halogenated butyl rubber.

Russia and India are deepening financial cooperation in such areas as interoperability between payment systems, information security, insurance, business and stock exchange markets, expanding bank representation. It is worth noticing the importance and advantages of increasing national currencies’ share in the bilateral trade through respective mechanisms and settlements.

We also take advantages of mutual active participation in the leading regular trade and investment, as well as political events in both countries like the Saint-Petersburg International Economic Forum, the Eastern Economic Forum, Innoprom, Vibrant Gujarat and Raisina Dialogue.

Because of the pandemic, the bilateral trade in 2020 decreased by 17.6% to the amount of 9.3 bn USD. However, we believe that current initiatives would help us to fulfil the task to achieve 30 bn USD of mutual trade turnover by 2025.

In scientific and technical cooperation, we are dedicated to intensify students and academic exchanges, as well as to develop specialized interaction on promising topics and long-term joint research programmes in such spheres as telecommunications, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies, space, pharmacy and others.

In the sphere of space and space technologies, our countries actively interact on the satellite navigation through the Russian Satellite Navigation System GLONASS and the Indian system – NavIC, as well as on cryogenic rocket technology. Four Indian astronauts were successfully training in Russia in the framework of the Gaganyan project – the first India’s manned space flight.

Our defence cooperation is another symbol of exceptional trust and mutual understanding. Started in 1960, it keeps its relevance in upgrading military capabilities of the two countries. There’s a growing importance of intense exchanges between Defense Ministries, dedicated conferences, exhibitions, consultations, experience sharing and training. Joint exercises Indra, as well as international Army games, parades and sports competitions are being conducted regularly.

Over more than 60 years, the contracts for supplies of a wide range of arms and defence equipment estimated at more than 87 billion USD. Even long before the programme “Make in India” was launched, we have started arrangements related to licensed manufacturing and maintenance of armored, aviation and navy technics, anti-tank missiles, air defence systems, as well as various types of ammunition.

Today, Russia remains the only foreign country to share sophisticated defence technologies with India willing to engage in various joint development and production ventures. Given that defence cooperation with Russia is one of the basic factors for the Indian security, the Indian partners continuously insist that no outside pressure, including unilateral sanctions should be allowed to disturb it.

India has become the 60th country to authorize the use of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus. Do you think it will open up a new dimension in our special and privileged strategic partnership?

We can say that with confidence, and this commitment is supported and encouraged at the highest political level.

At present, our priority is to implement agreements on the Russian vaccine Sputnik V supplies to India and ensure its smooth and accelerated production here, which has already started and by August is presumed to be extended to the massive scale, gradually reaching up to 850 mn doses per year. It is expected that India will become one of the key producers of the Sputnik V vaccine in the world.

The authorized Russian Direct Investment Fund and personally its CEO Mr. Kirill Dmitriev is very dedicated to promote partnerships with a number of the Indian companies – Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Hetero Biopharma, Panacea Biotec, Stelis Biopharma, Virchow Biotech and Gland Pharma.

No wonder that more than 60 countries has already verified this vaccine. It is based on technologies and platforms that proved to be effective for decades. Being one of the most efficient and safest vaccine in the world, Sputnik V has no registered cases of blood clotting and thrombosis, nor any serious side effects, with its efficacy being confirmed at 97.6%. It is quite easy to store as well – its dry form can be kept at a temperature of +2 to +8 degrees Celsius. More to say, it is declared that Sputnik V is also effective against the new strains of the COVID-19.

With regard to our future cooperation in this area, we have also launched dialogue on the Sputnik Light – a single dose vaccine – and other Russian brands, including EpiVac-Corona.

What is important about Sputnik Light is that it is designed to facilitate the challenge of immunizing large groups in a shorter time helping to achieve herd immunity faster. Its characteristics simplify the storage and logistics issues.

Its efficacy is currently showing 79,4 %. We believe it will be of huge demand.

Russia is the chief supplier of defence equipment in India. Please share your opinion on the various military hardware involved.

Advanced level of the Russian-Indian defence, military and technical cooperation historically constitute one of the pillars of the strategic partnership between our two states. It is getting more focused on the increasing level of technology exchanges, matching modern requirements and policies, including “Make in India” and “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, as well as significantly contributing to the Indian defence capabilities.

Currently, we are working on the implementation of the Inter-Governmental Agreement on joint development and production of military equipment, components and spare parts, as well as improving after-sales service, which was signed at the bilateral Summit in Vladivostok in 2019. It was a considerable step ahead in a sense that it enabled private entities and even regions of Russia and India to be directly involved in the relevant initiatives.

We also expect the long-term programme for the military and technical cooperation till 2030 to be signed soon. Ensuring a comprehensive approach in the defence partnership, it would further facilitate conclusion and implementation of the new deals.

We are aimed at the efficient and timely advancement of all agreements. Among the landmark initiatives are contracts on the S-400 air defence units (first batch is planned to come by the end of 2021) and the Project 11356 frigates. Joint production ofKa-226T helicopters and AK-203 assault rifles, which is about to start soon, enjoy a great level of localization. The overall amount of deals, which we are being implementing at the moment come close to USD 16 bn.

Long-term cooperation is going on combat aviation (including Su-30MKI programme), main battle tanks (T90), submarines and missiles.

One of the projects, which also makes us proud, is the JV Brahmos, all tests of contemporary versions are successful. We are planning to gradually increase the range of these exclusive missiles and, of course, begin exporting it to the third countries.

We welcome further dialogue on technology sharing, localization and JVs, as well as perspective partnership in the framework of the UP and TN Industrial Corridors.

I would like to highlight that every year we expand our mutual participation in the international defence fora such as Defexpo, Aero India, MAKS Aero Expo, as well as various programmes of education and training. At the Aero India 2021, Russia was one of the biggest exhibitors with delegation comprising more than  20 organizations, with more than 100 delegates and more than 300 items displayed. Among them were Su-57, Su-35 and MiG-35 fighter jets, helicopters Ka-52,  Ka-226, Mi-17B-5, Mi-26, modern air defence systems, tanks and heavy armored personnel carriers, Brahmos and other missiles systems, etc

This year, India hosts the thirteenth BRICS Summit. What are Russia’s priorities under the financial cooperation agenda this year? What is Russia’s global economic outlook?

Cooperation in BRICS is a special priority of the Russian foreign policy since it provides the comprehensive strategic partnership covering a large number of areas structured in three major pillars – policy and security, economy and finance, as well as culture and humanitarian ties.

It is positive and forward-looking, not aimed against any other countries rather promoting a unified agenda and supplementing efforts of the international community to ensure a collective response to the modern global and regional challenges.

We all are united in proceeding towards the establishment of just and equal multipolar world order based on the central role of the UN and the principles of the UN Charter, including respect for sovereignty, non-use of force or threat of force, non-interference in domestic affairs, etc. We don’t recognize unilateral approaches, illegitimate sanctions and geopolitically motivated pressure. On the contrary, we promote diversity and mutually respectful dialogue between states and civilizations defending rights of all countries to choose their ways of development according to their historical and cultural backgrounds.

This understanding was firmly reiterated during the BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting, which took place on June 1 under the current Indian Chairship and was a big success.

Final documents – Media Statement and Joint Statement on Strengthening and Reforming the Multilateral System – conclude that we are likeminded with regard to the need of democratization of the global governance, which should be more efficient and representative, taking onboard developing countries and emerging economies. We stand for balanced implementation of sustainable development and climate change commitments, which should take into account different national circumstances. We support the endeavors aimed at ensuring global strategic stability, disarmament and non-proliferation including an early adoption of legally binding rules of responsible behavior of states in the outer space and international information security, as well as non-politicization of OPCW, BTWC and other crucial mechanisms. We are of the strong view that all regional conflicts should be resolved peacefully in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions, international law and interests of all parties involved.

There is a growing scope for cooperation against terrorism, which is implemented by BRICS in compliance with the Anti-Terrorist Strategy. Extended partnership is carried out in the framework of the Anti-Terrorist Working Group and specialized sub-groups. Our agenda includes preparation of the result-oriented and forward-looking Action Plan, which would allow to further streamline practical steps and exchanges.

Eventually, a huge focus was made on our collective efforts against the COVID-19 threat, which we aim to promote by dialogue on the establishment of the joint vaccines research and development center, creation of an early warning system to prevent epidemics, as well as a launch of a symposium on the vaccines cooperation. Partnership in this area is based on the positive experience and dedicated approach by the medical officials, scientists and experts, which is maintained over the years. Since the Ufa Declaration of 2015, we have been involved in detailed discussion on infectious diseases and pandemics.

Importantly, BRICS countries supported the ongoing consideration in WTO on the COVID-19 vaccine IPR waiver and the use of flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement in the context of our common understanding of the need to ensure equal distribution of vital medicines during the pandemic. For this purpose, BRICS regular coordination on the G20 agenda reiterates its utmost relevance.

A lot of attention was paid to a post-pandemic recovery, which is practically supported by the respective mechanisms, first of all – BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy till 2025, New Development Bank, Partnership for the New Industrial Revolution and other digitalization initiatives, Energy Research Cooperation Platform. Centralized interaction is there in order to implement decisions on interoperability of national payment systems and increased use of national currencies in international trade.

Russia strongly supports the Indian Chairship and is looking forward to solid deliverables for the Summit scheduled for September 2021 to ensure continuity and practical outcomes of the overall BRICS process.

What can you tell us about the official visit of the Foreign Minister of Russia to India in April 2021?

The visit of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to New Delhi took place on April 6. It attracted a lot of attention and interest since it became a landmark bilateral event at the high political level. It followed remarkable visits to Moscow of the Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in September 2020, when the SCO events and RIC Foreign Ministers meetings were held, and of the Indian Foreign Secretary Mr. Harsh Vardhan Shringla in February this year.

Any dialogue between our key diplomats is always comprehensive, open-minded and forward-looking, it reflects the nature of the special and privileged strategic partnership. This time they focused on a whole range of issues of bilateral and global agenda aiming to prepare further engagements, first of all the planned visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India in the second half of the year.

It was a very useful opportunity to compare notes with regard to our multilateral engagements in the current evolving environment. The Ministers confirmed proximity of relevant approaches of the two countries.

Particularly, Sergey Lavrov and Dr. S. Jaishankar had a detailed discussion on the UN agenda and the Russian coordination with India, which demonstrates dedication and very balanced approach as the UNSC non-permanent member.

We reiterated once again the Russia’s consistent support to the Indian candidature for a permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Along with other issues, the Ministers discussed how we can cooperate on the issues of the UN reform while both countries stand for the need to raise efficiency of the Organization and increase representation of developing states in decision-making.

A lot of attention was paid to our interaction in the Asia-Pacific regional mechanisms. We completely share the view in favour of promoting inclusive cooperation and undivided security, as well as unacceptability to create any cold-war type alienation lines.

In this regard the Ministers confirmed their support to the unified agenda, promoted in the framework of the SCO, which is very instrumental to enhance capacity in dealing with the regional challenges and threats. They highly appreciated activities of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure for this purpose.

Moreover, they touched upon prospects of partnership in the Russia-India-China format, or RIC, which India is also chairing this year. It was earlier agreed to expand trilateral political dialogue to practical cooperation, including at the level of the Defence Ministries.

Such formats as BRICS, SCO and RIC are incredibly important to expand common ground in the region, especially between India and China. Russia is consistently supporting a constructive interaction between the two neighbours – each of them independently is very special friend of ours, but we can see that tensions between the two can be misused by the other outside players in their geopolitical purposes. Clearly, mutual understanding and respect for sensitivities between New Delhi and Beijing are core factors for the regional stability, and the Russia’s continuous priority in this regard is to further encourage their bilateral and multilateral engagements.

Obviously, the Ministers discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the ways to support the intra-Afghan talks. Our end goal is similar – we want to see the settlement as Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, and the country as peaceful, independent, neutral, prosperous, safe from terrorism and illegal drug trafficking. Together we do a lot to support these imperatives by efforts to shape relevant regional consensus and maintaining bilateral and multilateral consultations, including in the framework of the SCO Contact Group and the NSAs.

Another key agenda item is cooperation in Eurasia, which is based on our common interests. A unifying agenda is the centerpiece of the initiative proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to develop the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which is open to all states of the continent. Its implementation will not only strengthen positive connectivity and improve the competitiveness of all participants, but will also be a solid foundation in building a peaceful and stable continental space.

Indo–Russian relations in the field of culture are historical. Even today, the two nations admire each other when it comes to education, literature, films, and yoga. How can we collaborate on an international level?

Our cultural and civilizational affinity is yet another area of traditional engagement grounded on philosophical thoughts shared between Tolstoy and Gandhi, heritage of Roerich’s family and ever-growing people-to-people exchanges. We enjoy successful practice of holding reciprocal festivals of culture, as well as film festivals. Remarkably, Russia was the focus country of the 50th International Film festival in 2019 in Goa and the 44th International Kolkata Book Fair in 2020.

It covers a wide range of areas, including exchanges of music, dance and theater groups, art and photo exhibitions, relevant seminars and conferences. Russian Centers of Science and Culture in New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Trivandrum, as well as by Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Center in Moscow make
a significant contribution to the development of our humanitarian ties.

Cross-cultural festivals are generally held annually, some of the events are now being held online. The Days of Moscow in India and Days of Delhi in Russia are also very popular. The Russian art, folklore and history remain the main themes of the regular web-meetings held by the Delhi University. Among the other promising cultural projects is an exhibition by the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, to be held in the National Gallery of India soon.

Cooperation in the area of education also brings us back to the Soviet time. Nowadays, about 10 thousand Indian students are studying in Russia every year getting high quality education in medicine, civil aviation, engineering, energy and defence. About a hundred scholarships for Indian students are allocated each year.

Apart from the university exchanges, there are state and private run training programs for Indians. One of this projects supported by the President of Russia is cooperation between the Sirius Educational Centre (Sochi) and Atal Innovation Mission. Among the areas are ecology, medicine, space, energy, agrobio technology, big data processing, mobile and web applications development.

The BRICSMATH Online Olympiad in mathematics is also becoming more and more popular. The number of Indian participants exceeded 400 thousand.

At the international level, we also are very keen to promote humanitarian partnerships in BRICS, the SCO, RIC and other formats, where relevant agenda is continuously expanded and gaining increased popularity among the people of our nations.

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