On the eve of the Independence day Ambassador of India to Russia Pundi Srinivasan Raghavan gave an interview to Sputnik agency. Accepting the greetings of our correspondent Natalya Benykh, the Ambassador answered her questions:
Question: What aspects of the Indo-Russian dialogue are most relevant and important at present?
Answer: The India-Russia dialogue continues to be vibrant and all-encompassing. We have recently had visits to Russia of our President (for the Victory Day commemoration) and our Prime Minister (to Ufa for the BRICS and SCO Summits). These provided the opportunity for an extensive discussion in all areas of bilateral cooperation between our leaders and President Putin. We are making progress on all areas covered in the bilateral joint statement issued during President Putin’s visit to India in December 2014. I am sure we will see the results at the next Annual Summit meeting in Russia towards the end of this year.
Q.: What is the assessment of the Indian side of BRICS & SCO Summits outcomes?
A.: Our PM attended both the BRICS and SCO Summits. The significant outcomes of the BRICS Summit are encapsulated in the Ufa Declaration which clearly demonstrates the convergence of views of the BRICS countries on major international political, security and economic developments. This is an important outcome in the endeavour to project the interests and aspirations of our countries in a multipolar world. I would also draw your attention to the New Development Bank which was established at the Ufa Summit and the agreement on the Contingency Reserve Arrangement. They express the agreement of our countries to take concrete measures to promote development projects within our countries and to create a currency safety net. These are significant achievements. As far as SCO is concerned, we welcome the fact that the Ufa Summit initiated the process of induction of India as a full member of SCO. Our Prime Minister expressed to President Putin his warm appreciation of the role that Russia has played in making this happen.
Q.: Russia and India both are interested in further and significant growth of the mutual trade & economic relations, and to increase mutual investment. Yet there is no breakthrough! What is required for this? What is being done?
A.: It would be incorrect to say that there is no breakthrough in trade and economic relations. A number of activities are taking place and are leading towards positive conclusions. We signed an agreement in June for setting up a Joint Study Group on a Free Trade Agreement between India and the Eurasian Economic Union and already in July the first meeting of this Group was held to identify the scope and timelines for the Study. We are expanding trade in egg powder and bovine meats and are progressing towards an agreement for Indian exports of dairy products to Russia. There have been increased exchanges of business visitors between the two countries. At the forthcoming MAKS Air Show on August 25, we expect to see a large number of Indian companies interested in business, including joint ventures, with Russian companies in both the civilian and defence sectors. We have also made progress in multilateral discussions on activation of the International North-South Transport Corridor. I would say there is considerable action and we will start seeing the results.
Q.: Russian and Indian businesses are keen in the establishment of the North-South Transport Corridor, which will significantly fasten the transportation of goods from South Asia to the Russian Federation, CIS and Europe. Has there been any progress in the implementation of this project?
A.: A meeting of all stakeholders in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) was held in Mumbai in June 2015. It was well-attended, including by an important delegation from Russia, and resulted in a number of useful and practical suggestions for further action. This meeting is being followed up with meetings of the INSTC Experts’ Group and the INSTC Council later this month. There is also a separate initiative for a meeting of Customs officials of Russia, India, Iran and Azerbaijan. The tempo of meetings shows that all the concerned countries feel that we are reaching an important stage in the discussions.
Q.: In India, the programme ‘Make in India’, initiated by Narendra Modi, is gaining momentum? What is Russia’s participation in that?
A.: Russian companies have shown considerable interest in the ‘Make in India’ initiative. The joint manufacture of Ka-226 helicopters in India has already been mentioned as the first India-Russia Make in India project. Discussions are continuing on this project. Meanwhile, a number of other project proposals are under discussion at various levels.
Q.: Is Indian business availing the opportunity of Russia being under Western sanctions and in which areas, to expand trade and economic ties with our country?
A.: I have often said that we do not need external reasons for strengthening trade and economic ties between our two countries. This objective is intrinsic in our special and privileged partnership. Of course, Indian companies will take every new opportunity that is available to expand their presence in Russia.
Q.: It is well known that India is interested to interact with the Eurasian Economic Union. What is expected of this interaction? Will that give, according to the Indian side, a sizeable acceleration to the bilateral trade and investment between India and Russia?
A.: We believe that a closer engagement between India and Eurasian Economic Union could greatly expand the volume and diversity of trade between India and of the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union with each of which India already has close political and economic relations. We hope that this engagement will eventually go beyond a Free Trade Agreement and encompass the entire range of economic cooperation.
Q.: What is the Indian side assessment of collaboration with Russia in the sphere of defence?
A.: Our collaboration in the sphere of defence is progressing well. At their meetings in December 2014 and in July 2015 our leaders reviewed the progress in various projects and we have no doubt that we will see a number of significant announcements by the time of the Summit meeting towards the end of this year.
Q.: During the SCO Summit in Ufa, the process to give India full membership of this regional organization was started. Many other countries, including Pakistan, are also interested in becoming full member of the SCO. The SCO pays much heed to strengthening security in the region; can becoming full members of the SCO give an additional boost in normalizatioon of relations between India and Pakistan?
A.: We consider the SCO an important regional mechanism for cooperation in regional security, counter-terrorism, energy, transport, connectivity and culture. The Ufa Summit commenced the process of induction of India and Pakistan to full membership of the SCO. India is now working with SCO to complete the process for becoming a full member. India will continue to participate in activities and initiatives of SCO. As per the well-known convention for multilateral groupings of this nature, we do not bring our bilateral relations with any country into deliberations of the SCO.
Q.: Mr. Ambassador, returning to the Independence Day of India, which you are celebrating in Russia. What events are being organized, and in which regions of the Russian Federation?
A.: We celebrate the Independence Day in Russia at flag-hoisting ceremonies in our Embassy in Moscow and our Consulates General in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. Indian citizens, people of Indian origin and other friends of India are welcome at this traditional event. Independence Day is also celebrated by Indian community organisations and Indian students in various locations in Russia through a variety of cultural events.