India Plays Diplomatic Cards Cautiously

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI – Diplomatically, howsoever close India and United States may be inching towards each other, New Delhi does not want this relationship to disturb its time-tested friendship with Russia.

This is clearly indicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin being the chief guest for this year’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2007. Accompanied by his wife, Lyudmila Putina and a high level delegation–including senior ministers and officials–he will be here on a two-day official visit from January 25th until January 26th.

During the visit, Russia and India will review their bilateral relations and discuss international issues of mutual interest and concern.

Against the backdrop of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal having hit the headlines, what stands out in the current situation is the priority given by Russia to civil nuclear cooperation with India.

Displaying Russia’s desire for nuclear cooperation, before Putin’s visit a top government official said in Moscow: “We will provide all-round support to India in its quest for the civilian nuclear technology, including joint development of new generation reactors, supply of nuclear fuel as it is the only option to satisfy the energy requirements of its rapidly expanding economy.”

It was also expressed that during Putin’s visit, India and Russia are likely to ink an initial agreement on the construction of four additional nuclear power plants in Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam.

Russia is already engaged in building two units of 1000 MWTe in Kudankulam. “In a separate statement to be inked during the President’s visit, Moscow and New Delhi will announce their agreement to build four more VVER 1000 units at Kudankulam,” the official reportedly said. It may be observed, the official asserted, that the “independent nature” of bilateral Indo-Russian ties is not dependent on Moscow’s or Delhi’s relations with Washington or any other country.

In fact, the official emphatically stated, Moscow welcomes the Indo-US nuclear deal.

In addition, it was signaled that Putin’s visit would be marked by the inking of major agreements on defense cooperation.

These include a deal for a joint venture to build a multirole transport aircraft and Moscow’s offer of investment in the joint development of a fifth generation fighter, sources said.

Besides, the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security cleared a deal to purchase additional 30 to 40 Su-30 MKI jets from Russia. The committee also gave its nod for inking an agreement with Russia for manufacture of RD-33 series of engines for the MIG-29 fighter aircraft. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will manufacture the engines under license from the Russian government.

Apart from India warming up diplomatically towards Russia, the recent weeks have been marked by a boost in its ties with other countries, particularly China and Saudi Arabia. The upswing in Indo-Saudi ties is marked by “historic and landmark visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, to India in January 2006,” official sources said last week.

Continuing the process, the seventh session of the India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission (JCM) was held here (January 18-19, 2007). “The proceedings of the JCM underlined the determination of both sides to work together to realize and achieve the goals set out in the Delhi Declaration issued during the visit (of King Abdullah) covering the wide spectrum of bilateral cooperation,” Indian external affairs ministry said in a statement.

JCM was co-chaired by Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Saudi Minister of Commerce and Industry Hashim Abdullah Al-Yamani. Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi was also here last week to attend Petrotech 7 conference. During their visit, both ministers laid stress on strengthening bilateral ties of Saudi Arabia with India. On this, Naimi said: “While two decades ago we exported only a tiny amount of crude to India, today we are supplying about 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) to this growing market. We have also expressed strong interest in various joint ventures either in the Kingdom or in India. We also invite Indian engineering and construction firms to bid for our projects. We appreciate the efforts of over 1.7 million Indians who are working in different sectors of Saudi economy.” In a similar tone, Yamani asserted: “This is a great time for forging a true partnership between the two countries and our government will provide the business community all kind of support for this.”

While the upswing in Indo-Saudi ties is dominated by new importance given to economic diplomacy by both countries, developments in India’s ties with Russia and China bear their own significance.

What cannot be missed is the scheduled meeting of foreign ministers of India, Russia and China here on February 14. With Putin’s India-visit and this trilateral meeting taking place just when world is taking note of the increasing warmth in New Delhi-Washington ties, the diplomatic message is apparent. New Delhi prefers maintaining good ties with its old friends as well as new ones. Besides, while India, Russia and China are keen on strengthening their ties, bilaterally as well as trilaterally, they have also signaled that they don’t want the US to be upset by this development, as they favor good ties with Washington.