Your Excellency, this is your first interview since you’ve been appointed as the Ambassador to the Russian Federation. How do you assess the prospects of your tenure? How you see the future of bilateral relations development, especially taking into account the results of the last Summit in December?
Answer: India’s relations with Russia are unique and special which have withstood the test of time. Our relations are multi-dimensional covering virtually every field of human endeavour. We have a robust partnership with Russia covering many fields and are working towards further enhancing this cooperation with our strategic partner. We have covered a lot of ground in our relations and the last summit-level meeting between our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in December 2015 in Moscow was very successful in which a number of cooperation agreements were signed.
In few days I will be completing a month of my stay in Russia. I started my career in Moscow, in 1984. Then it was the erstwhile Soviet Union - a different country, different time. The situation in the world was very different then.
An now when I am back in Russia after 32 years I’d like to say that this is a great honour and privilege. I see that Russia has changed a lot - in economy, in culture, and in its relations with the world - in all this, Russia has achieved significant growth. Russia is our strategic and privileged partner and I am very happy to have taken over as India’s Ambassador to such an important country, and to lead this important Mission where I began my career as a young diplomat. As the Ambassador of India to Russia my efforts will be directed at carrying forward this relationship and implementing decisions taken.
As you know we have a new Government in India which is committed towards very close relations with Russia. For me personally, this is a great inspiration to be here as Ambassador and do whatever is possible towards carrying this relationship forward. We know that there is a great potential and possibility for further strengthening the relations between India and Russia and I think the younger generation has a big role here.
As for interaction between the two countries, our efforts in the first place will be directed at bringing the people together. Russia has a rich history, culture and civilization. The same can be said about India. A lot has been written about India and Russia, and India has inspired Russian intellectuals. Therefore, we must continue the work which has been done. Under any circumstances, neither India nor Russia should neglect each other. They cannot allow themselves to do this. The most important thing in the relations is to create and strengthen contacts between the people.
Do you see any possibilities to increase in trade with RF in the coming year? What are the areas where a breakthrough can be achieved? Are negotiations going on to increase the export of dairy and meat products to Russia?
Answer: Prime Minister Modi and President Putin have set a target of USD 30 billion of bilateral trade by 2025. Both sides are committed to enhance bilateral trade and economic cooperation and we are working together to reach this target. We will make our best effort. We have identified several priority areas such as pharmaceuticals, gems & jewellery, engineering equipment and machinery, hydrocarbons, textile & garments, agriculture and food products, as potential areas for cooperation, which will help us achieve this target. The export of buffalo meat from India to Russia has already started and has been well received. We are in the process of seeking necessary approvals for export of dairy products.
Are talks going on now about increasing export of Indian meat and dairy products to Russia?
Answer: India has already started exporting buffalo-meat to Russia where it has been well received. As far as expanding the supply – we are a big exporter of buffalo-meat and further expansion will depend on the demand from Russia. I am sure that if there is demand here, our exporters will be glad to increase the supply. If necessary, we are ready to export more. Also, we are at the moment negotiating on receiving necessary permission for starting export of dairy products.
At what stage are the negotiations on mutual settlements in national currencies between Russia and India? How do people in India assess the RF offer to have mutual settlements in national currencies within BRICS group? Will this solution help to decrease risks concerned with payments in dollars?
Answer: There is considerable interest among Indian and Russian companies to conduct trade using national currencies and we already have established mechanisms for this purpose which both sides are free to use. In addition, we have set up a joint working group to study and recommend a plan of action for measures to promote local currency settlements in India-Russia trade. Both sides are consulting their respective industry and businesspersons in order to reach a broad-based consensus on this issue. The option of trade using national currencies among BRICS countries is promising and we are working on it.
In 2016 Chairmanship of BRICS will pass on from Russia to India, What would be New Delhi’s priorities in the framework of its chairmanship and how will they contribute to bilateral relations?
Answer: India is eagerly looking forward to its chairmanship of BRICS. Our preparations have begun and we will consult with Russia in its capacity as the previous Chair to ensure that the momentum and scope of activities is maintained. We highly value Russia’s role as BRICS chairman in 2015. We have already announced the theme of BRICS under India’s chairmanship which will be “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions”. We regard BRICS as an important group of countries whose impact is felt across the world. A large number of multilateral interactions under the BRICS framework were undertaken at different levels under Russia’s Chairmanship of BRICS.
This year we will hold the BRICS summit for the second time. Also for the second time, India will have the Chairmanship of the Organization. Last time it was in 2012 and since then BRICS has become stronger and the level of interaction has increased. We hope that we can implement the good work done by Russia and its achievements and also find new spheres of interaction. The members of BRICS are among the biggest economies of the world – if we unite the economies of Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa, it will constitute a big percentage of the global economy. The point of view from which we will approach the task as the Chairman of BRICS is based upon the benefit the organization will be able to bring to the global economy. We also understand that there will be other spheres of interaction under the framework of this organization. This includes people to people contact, various challenges faced by this organization, for example terrorism, security and also political situation. We hope that in the coming months we will able to organize various meetings at different levels and different sectors as preparatory meetings for the BRICS summit in India.
Is the visit of Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Mr. Lavrov to India being worked out in the framework of the preparations for the Summit?
Answer: Of course we are planning to organize a series of Ministerial level visits for which we will hold consultations with Russia. I am sure that while planning for the meetings between heads of Foreign Ministries of BRICS, we will send invitations for the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Mr. Sergei Lavrov.
The exact date is yet to be decided. We are working on the various meetings under our Chairmanship. But I can say that we will support the BRICS tradition and consultations will be held between the BRICS partners at different levels. This may be at the level of Deputy Ministers and Ministers. As for the dates, as I already said they are yet to be finalized. Now we are working on the logistics details of meetings at various levels, and of course on logistics for the Summit itself.
Will the agenda of the summit include the topic of joint efforts against terrorism?
Answer: I would like to separate these two aspects. First one is India’s Chairmanship of BRICS and the second is the Summit itself where the heads of states will meet. We are preparing for this and during our preparation are considering various platforms of our interaction whether in economy, finance or anti-terrorism. Of course there will be focus and definite attention on questions pertaining to terrorism and fight against terrorism.
As for the summit, when our leaders meet they will discuss the most important issues of the time in the world. This will relate not only to BRICS but to the overall situation in the world and these will be discussed as global issues and also as regional issues. Also, this will be very difficult at the moment to predict how the world situation will be at that moment. But there is no doubt that the issues will be discussed.
I am sure special emphasis will be given to fight against international terrorism during the BRICS summit. Terrorism is a serious problem and the BRICS countries have the capability and potential to fight terrorism and the capability to sustain peace and stability in the whole world. Therefore, I think that when leaders of our countries meet, they will definitely need to use this opportunity and discuss these issues.
How are the talks on free trade zone between India and the Eurasian Economic Union going? Can we expect an agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation to be made in the format of India - the Eurasian Economic Union?
Answer: A Joint Study Group has been constituted to study the prospects of a Free Trade Area (FTA) between India and the Eurasian Economic Union. Presently, the study is underway and we look forward to the early conclusion of this study. Subsequently, we will study the report and thereafter enter into the actual negotiations for the Free Trade Area (FTA) /Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) will start. India would like to be associated with the Eurasian Economic Union.
At the moment, it is hard to estimate any frameworks and dates as presently the sides are conducting technical negotiations. It is very important to understand that at political level the sides have agreed to facilitate the association of India with the Eurasian Economic Union. The leaders of our countries agreed on this during the summit.
We are holding negotiations with Russia as well as other countries (EaEU members). India is ready to sign agreement on free trade but when such agreements are signed it should be considered that this should be mutually beneficial and take into account the wishes and requirements of both sides.
When can the tri-partite meeting Russia-India-China be held?
Answer: The tri-partite Russia-India-China Foreign Ministerial level meeting will take place in Russia this year and mutually convenient dates are being worked out between all three sides.
At what stage are the arrangements on Russian leader’s visit to New Delhi?
Answers: The leaders of India and Russia meet annually and sometimes even more often. This is because of the depth and range of our partnership which is vast and expanding. The cycle of preparatory meetings which are typically held several months prior to the Annual Summit has already begun.
When will the delivery of Russian MI-17V-5 according to the previous largest contract for 151 units be completed? Earlier it was reported that India is going to purchase 48 more units of such helicopters – are the talks already on the way? When could the contracts be expected to be signed?
Answer: The delivery of MI-17V5 helicopters as per the provision of the contract has already been made. Due process has started for purchase of additional units of such helicopters and contracts are expected to be signed on conclusion of the due process.
It is difficult at this stage to say when the next shipment will be made. We are expecting this and experts are working on the matter. But at the moment, it is difficult to give a definite timeframe.
That is these are purely technical consultations and the sides do not have any significant difference?
Answers: On the whole I do not see any serious problem (with the new contract).
Have the negotiations with India on purchasing S-400 Triumph air defense systems started? When do You expect the contract to be signed?
Answer: We have a longstanding and diverse defence partnership with Russia covering different sectors and requirements. There are various platforms which are being discussed between India and Russia and both sides are working on fruitful conclusion of such negotiations.
Do Indian airlines consider buying Sukhoi Superjet (SSJ100) aircraft? If so, how many items are there under consideration?
Answer: There have been some discussions between the Russian side and Indian companies. India is one of the world’s fastest growing civil aviation markets in the world, so our requirement for passenger planes is high. Russia’s expertise in this area is well known. The discussions will be based on commercial considerations, and I do hope they will lead to concrete outcomes.
Sukhoi is holding negotiations with two private Indian companies and this is purely a commercial issue between the supplier i.e Sukhoi and two private companies. Therefore, we have to wait till any decision is made.
Taking the above into account, I may say that the Government of India is not involved in these negotiations. In any case, I will be glad if both sides can arrive at an agreement. But as this is a commercial proposal, here the private companies will consider factors which are important to them and will conclude the agreement based on those. Negotiations are still going on. I would only like to say that Sukhoi Superjet is a good plane and it has proved itself in the international market.
When New Delhi expects to close the deal on purchasing the stake in Vankorneft by ONGC? Is it to going to take place during the IRIGC meeting as earlier reported by the media?
Answer: Hydrocarbons is high priority area for mutually beneficial cooperation between India and the Russian Federation. We are discussing a wide set of options covering exploring and production, acquisitions, supply of equipment and technology for exploration and transport, and refining and retail. During the Annual Summit held in Moscow in December 2015, the two sides have agreed to the acquisition of 15 % stake by Indian company ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) in the Vankorneft project.
As for intergovernmental commissions, we have two - military and economic. This issue is connected to the intergovernmental commission on economic matters. Presently, talks are going on between Rosneft and Indian enterprises. The talks are going on well and I believe that the possibilities of conclusion of the agreement are good. However, there are difficult internal issues which are to be resolved. I can only say that we are optimistic about conclusion of negotiations and hope that this will happen in the current year, but how and when – will be decided by both sides.
Speaking about the intergovernmental commissions, both military and economic - when are they going to take place?
Answer: Next annual summit will take place in India and usually they take place towards the end of the year. As for the dates, we have not decided yet. We just have completed the previous summit which was highly successful and one of the most fruitful. Before the next summit, preparatory meetings are to be held. Usually these meetings take place several months before the summit and gives opportunities to the Ministers to provide the Heads of States with necessary information.
As I said we have not decided the dates but we know that for the summit to be successful, we have to prepare well. Now we are working on the schedule of such preparatory meetings so that the process can be started at an early date. We are trying to frame the schedule in such a way that both sides will have enough time to prepare well.
Earlier Reuters agency reported that Indian Oil Corp and Oil India negotiate with "Rosneft" to buy nearly 30 percent stake in Taas-Yuryakh field in Eastern Siberia. Could the Indian side confirm this? At what stage are the negotiations?
Answer: Several options are under discussion. It would be appropriate for these discussions to be carried out and concluded before making a formal announcement.
When can the general agreement be signed between Rosatom and the Indian side on constructing new units of nuclear power station in India?
Answer: India and Russia have agreed on a roadmap to develop 12 nuclear reactors in India in the next two decades. We already have commissioned Unit 1 at Kudankulam and Kudankulam-2 is likely to be commissioned soon. The General Framework Agreement for the third and fourth units has been finalized. Discussions are underway to finalise the General Framework Agreement for the fifth and sixth units, and we would like to do this as soon as possible. During the last Annual Summit in December 2015 a Programme of Action was agreed upon between the Department of Atomic Energy of India and the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom for localization of manufacturing in India for Russian-designed nuclear reactor units. This is yet another positive step in our nuclear energy cooperation and demonstration of ‘Make in India’ policy.
Do you expect that SCO-2016 summit in Uzbekistan will end in India becoming the member of the organization?
Answer: The decision to commence the process of induction of India as a full member of SCO was taken during the Ufa Summit in July 2015. We hope for an early conclusion of the process and our inclusion in SCO as a full member at the next Summit.