11 May 2014
Indian Ambassador to Russia: Delhi does not support Western sanctions against Russia.
Pundi Srinivasan Raghavan told Interfax about the development of relations between the two countries
Indian Ambassador in Moscow, Pundi Srinivasan Raghavan, who was appointed in January 2014, told Interfax special correspondent Andrey Baranovsky about the development of relations between the two countries in different spheres, why India’s delegation to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum will be less representational this year than before, and also why Delhi does not support Western sanctions against Russia.
- What spheres of Russian-Indian relations you as the Ambassador in Moscow find the most important? Are there disagreements between our countries?
- India and Russia enjoy an extraordinarily close relationship, which the leaders of our two countries have termed a “special and privileged strategic partnership”. The partnership covers a wide canvas. We have close political consultations on regional and international developments. We have many common challenges in our strategic and security environment. Our defence cooperation, which goes back at least four decades, has a dynamic character – going beyond a buyer-seller relationship to joint research, development and production. We have had extensive cooperation in atomic energy, space and oil & gas. Our economic cooperation and science & technology collaboration date back to the period following our independence. The nature of our cultural affinities can be gauged from the immense popularity of the Festival of Indian Culture in Russia in 2013 and the Festival of Russian Culture in India in 2014.
Every one of these elements is valuable in India-Russia relations. If there those which I would choose for even greater emphasis today, they would be a further enhancement of our economic cooperation and a deeper engagement in science & technology interactions. In both these areas we can enrich our interactions by taking advantage of the complementarities in our economies and the mutual benefit from joint research and development activities.
On the subject of disagreements, the top leadership of both our countries has often confirmed unequivocally that this is a bilateral relationship with absolutely no discordant elements.
- How did Russia-India mutual trade and investments develop last year?
- Our bilateral trade in 2013 declined marginally to US$ 10 billion, primarily reflecting global economic developments. However, we already see positive signs for an increase in 2014
- Investments are witnessing a healthy upward trend and see encouraging prospects for investment flows in both directions in infrastructure, hydrocarbons, energy, pharmaceuticals, engineering, communications, IT and a number of other sectors.
Last year we established a new bilateral Working Group on Priority Investments. We are engaged in imparting further momentum to existing inter-governmental mechanisms such as the Inter-Governmental Commission and Joint Working Groups and business-to-business structures such as the CEO’s Council and the Forum on Trade and Investment. We are trying to enhance mutual information flows about industrial capacities and business opportunities. An India Trade Show Exhibition which we will bring to Moscow in September 2014 is an example of this. A systematic outreach of Indian businesses to the various regions of Russia is another priority for expanding economic ties. We are in close touch with the Eurasian Economic Commission to promote a much closer economic engagement between India and the Eurasian Customs Union and the eventual Eurasian Economic Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. We are looking at possibilities for direct transportation of hydrocarbons from Russia to India.
All these initiatives would provide significant new impetus to our vibrant economic cooperation.
- A number of representatives of Western business refused to visit the St. Petersburg Economic Forum this year, and explained their refusal by Russia’s position on the crisis in Ukraine. Will India participate in this Forum and whom will its delegation comprise?
- We give big importance to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum (SPEF). For this reason in earlier years our delegation was lead by the Minister of Commerce and Industry.
At present general elections are on in India. The results of the elections will become known approximately on May 16-17, then the process of formation of the Government will start, thus, it is almost impossible for any Minister to visit the SPEF. It should not be viewed as a sign that we do not give importance to this event.
In addition to that, for various industrial and commercial associations in India the priority will be the dialogue with the new Government about its policy in these spheres. For this reason, even representatives of associations will not be able to visit the SPEF in the numbers they used to come earlier. Therefore, our representation this year cannot be at the same level.
We already have a list of representatives of the Indian side, who will visit the Forum. As far as I know, there are 12 people in it. As I have mentioned above, our Commerce Minister will not be present, because we do not even know, who will take this position. As of now we are expecting two Deputy Ministers – of Commerce and Investment Development.
- What is the position of India on the Ukrainian crisis? Why Indian side refrained from voting for the UN General Assembly on the territorial integrity of Ukraine?
- India has consistently said that it is deeply concerned at the violence and loss of lives during recent developments in Ukraine. We have called for
restraint and sincere, sustained diplomatic efforts to resolve all the issues between the parties concerned through constructive dialogue. The solutions to Ukraine’s internal differences have to be found in a manner that meets the aspirations of all sections of Ukraine’s population.
- What is India opinion on Western sanctions on Russia? Does India consider these sanctions as an opportunity to develop Russia-Indian cooperation in various fields more active?
- India is not party to any sanctions regime that has not been mandated by due United Nations processes.
I have already outlined the tremendous opportunities for India-Russia cooperation in various fields and I believe we should pursue them energetically. India-Russia relations should not be impacted by extraneous developments elsewhere.
- The Ukrainian crisis and Western sanctions that followed have pushed Russian authorities to more active talks about carrying out monetary settlements with its counterparts in local currencies. Do you think it’s possible in foreseeable future to carry out monetary settlements between Russia and India in Rubles and Rupee?
- This idea has already been under discussion for sometime now between businesses and the banking authorities of the two countries in the relevant Working Group under the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission.
- Why the launch of Block 2 of Kudankulam nuclear plant was delayed again, now from October to December 2014?
- In fact the Kudankulam power plant project is developing very well. Unit 1 is already delivering power to our grid. Unit 2 is in the final phase of construction and should be operationalized this year. Large projects like these necessarily go through various stages of regulatory processes before they are fully brought on-stream; this should not be considered delay. We are now moving expeditiously to progress work on units 3 & 4 of the Kudankulam power project.
- Indian media reports about problems in Russian-Indian cooperation in creating the Fifth generation fighter jet, and blame Russian side. How can you comment on these reports?
- I do not know the background to these reports. All I can say is that from my discussions with HAL- the factory that will eventually produce the FGFA, the Indian Air Force, our Defence Ministry and the relevant agencies in Russia, I am aware that the project is moving forward well with the technical teams engaged in constructive and fruitful discussions on its various aspects.
As I said before, our defence cooperation has radically transformed from a buyer-seller relationship to one involving research, design, development and production of advanced defence systems. The FGFA, Multi-role Transport Aircraft and the already enormously successful BrahMos project are living examples of this.
- Is India interested in cooperating with Russia in creating Indian passenger aircraft?
- A project to develop passenger aircraft in India has been on the anvil for some years now. We are in discussion with a number of potential partners, including Russia, in this area.
- Indian authorities decided to start issuing Indian visas for citizens of a number of States, including Russia, in the local airports? How it can affect the tourist flow from Russia to India? Do you have statistics about a number of Russian tourists that visited Indian resorts last year?
- As you say, Russia is certainly included among the countries for which it is proposed to issue visas on arrival at Indian airports. The formalities and infrastructure required for operationalizing this are being finalized. We hope this will further increase Russian tourist traffic to India. Even independently of this, we are progressively streamlining our visa
procedures to make it quicker and easier for Russians to obtain Indian visas in this country.
We issued well over 200 000 visas to Russians in 2013 and we are hopeful of a significant increase in 2014. We know that Goa is a popular destination for Russian tourists; we hope to attract Russian tourists also to other equally beautiful parts of our country.