On 4-6 September 2019, the Russian port city of Vladivostok is hosting two major regional events, namely the East Economic Forum (EEF) 2019 and the 20th jubilee India-Russia annual summit. Indian observers have looked at the decades-long India-Russian partnership, and expect more to come in terms of economic collaboration.
The second day of the East Economic Forum (EEF) 2019 was marked by Indian Prime Minister Naredra Modi’s proposal to provide Russia with a $1 billion loan for the development of the Far East during his speech at the summit’s plenary session on 5 September.
Prime Minister Modi, who is participating in the event at the special invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a chief guest, invited 11 governors of the Far East Region to visit India to bolster economic ties between the country and the Russian Federal District.
India Continues to Buy Russian Arms Despite US Sanctions
According to Rishabh Sethi, the head of global projects at the BRICS International Forum and Friends for Leadership Programme Representative, Russian-Indian relations have been thriving for decades.
Indian-Soviet diplomatic ties were established several months before the Asian giant officially gained independence from the British Empire in August 1947. During the Cold War era, India and the USSR maintained a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decades long partnership transitioned into a special relationship.
“Both countries are time-tested friends for each other”, Sethi emphasises.
The scholar has singled out the Russo-Indian defence ties, referring to the much-discussed S-400 deal formally signed on 5 October 2018 despite a US threat of sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
“The S-400 deal was one of the major setbacks for everybody in the Western countries as you can see, which proved that India and Russia are very much close friends,” Sethi stresses.
Russia was India’s top arms supplier between 2014 and 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Organisation. On 4 September, President Putin and Prime Minister Modi agreed to enhance defence cooperation, with $14.5 billion worth of arms contracts being signed by the two countries since last year.
The scholar points out that Russia and India are working within various formats, including BRICS and trilateral cooperation with China.
“Russia, India and China… are among the strongest countries in the world… because these three countries are major [in terms of the] size of their populations and economic development also,” he underscores. “And also in terms of technology, because Russia is very much strong in terms of defence technology, India is very much strong in IT technology, China is also very much strong in production and technology like this. So these three countries are playing a very major role across the globe, increasing development and [improving] economically”.
India and Russia Stepping Up Trade & Creating New Technological Partnership
Rajendra Srivastava, the dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB) and the Novartis professor of marketing strategy and innovation, makes it clear that India-Russian collaboration has great potential and is not limited to defence deals.
“When I look at the potential for cooperation, I’ll talk more about India and Russia rather than all of the Far East [because] there are so many possibilities in areas where the countries are complimentary,” the professor says. “So, for example, when it comes to natural resources Russia has a lot and India needs them, whether it’s oil and gas or it is looking at other minerals.”
Srivastava remarks that “there are areas where Russia and India are strong in the same respect” and there are other spheres “where India and Russia are complimentary”, citing opportunities in the spheres of information technologies, telemedicine, and education.
“So if you take, for example, the information technology sector, Russia has a lot of talent, India has a lot of talent, the opportunities are global. So, the two countries can work together in order to deliver a solution somewhere else. The other thing is that there is also a potential for Russian businesses to come in India and the other ways around,” he explains.
The professor also refers to the Indian School of Business (ISB) cooperation with the Moscow School of Management in Skolkovo. The two entities signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 22 August, agreeing to exchange faculty and research staff, and organise joint events, academic research and other educational activities.
“So, one thing that we’re doing in our partnership in Skolkovo is to see if we can play a role in helping Russian companies… to understand how business is done in India, what’s the distribution, what’s the channel, and how to form alliances in India, but basically how to make things moving,” he stresses.
“There is so much potential and we are just at the starting point of what could be done”, Srivastava highlights.
At the 20th India-Russia Annual Summit, which took place on Wednesday, President Putin and PM Modi signalled their readiness to increase bilateral industrial cooperation and “create a new technological and investment partnership, especially in advanced high-tech areas” in a bid to boost mutual trade to $30 billion by 2025, according to the joint statement.
Earlier, on 12-13 August a delegation of four chief ministers of Indian states led by the commerce and industry minister of India visited Vladivostok for the first time ever to explore new business opportunities in the Far East.
Increasing Integration: ‘Countries Depend on Each Other as Building Blocks’
According to David Okpatuma, a coordinator for Africa, Art Shapers and member of Friends of Cities, the EEF 2019 has once again underlined the significance of inter-connectivity and the world’s economic integration.
“One of the key highlights from this year’s forum is that the [countries of the] world are opening up to each other there is inter-connectivity between the worlds,” Okpatuma says. “I am actually looking at a partnership whereby countries now depend on each other as building blocks of the world. So I am looking at the global connectivity been enhanced and heightened by virtue of this forum and which is a very good thing and tell very great things of the nearest future”.
In an indirect reference to the US economic course and tariff policy, Okpatuma highlights that growing integration and network cooperation can provide much more to the world than economic isolation.