Putin-Modi Summit In Delhi Likely To Have An Extensive Asian Impact

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Updated, Wednesday, December 8, 2021 with post-summit details of the discussions and initiatives the countries will be working on. Start reading from the top for the summit preamble and expectations and scroll to the end for additional post-summit subject matter and an overview of the summit contents, including new initiatives announced concerning the International North-South Transportation Corridor,  the Eastern Economic Corridor, the Green Corridor Project, Pre-Arrival Customs Digital Data, and bilateral railway developments.

From Vladivostok to Gujarat and from Afghanistan to Armenia the implications of closer ties between Moscow and Delhi will partially reshape Eurasia.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are meeting today (December 6) in New Delhi, where several agreements in energy, trade and defense can be expected to be signed. Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar announced that India is actively working to deepen ties with the Russian Far East, and in particular, a feasibility study for the Eastern Sea Corridor (Chennai-Vladivostok), which will expand bilateral trade between the countries along the sea route, is nearly complete.

The “2 + 2” format with Russia, which also includes the Foreign Ministers, will also discuss interaction of the two countries in Afghanistan, as well as coronavirus.

The Russia-India “2 + 2” dialogue was announced after a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin earlier this year. The two countries regard themselves as close strategic partners and are engaged in a broad dialogue. This has raised concerns from the ‘Quad’ members, of which India is also a part, and includes Australia, Japan, and the United States. However, India has stated its intention to pursue an independent foreign policy, where relations with partner countries being based on their own merits. The decision to create a 2 + 2 format with Russia was based on a mutual desire to strengthen our special and privileged strategic partnership.

Several bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding on important areas, including energy, trade and investment, defense, cultural cooperation, and people-to-people connections, should be completed at the summit, which includes two major defense deals related to the supply and production of Russian AK-203 rifles and Igla-S MANPADS.

The recent ties between Russia and India can be traced back to the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Vladivostok in 2019 at the Far Eastern Economic Forum, which I also attended and discussed the trade implications of that here

The Eastern Economic Corridor

That event served as an impetus for the formation of a new Indian policy “Act in the Far East”, where priority is given to interregional cooperation. The Russian Far East may seem a long way from India, however Modi’s visit saw the opportunity fields begin to open up cooperation with Russia, driven in part by India’s need to import LNG from the Russian Arctic at Yamal, and then become involved in the processing and treating of the product in Vladivostok. That then lead to Modi visiting the Vladivostok shipyards, where new types of LNG container ships and icebreakers are being developed. With Modi originally from Gujarat, which has its own shipyards, the prospect of joint Russian-Indian shipbuilding then materialized. That initial ‘light-bulb’ moment has led to additional creative thinking about collaboration. Russia also has the world’s largest diamond reserves, while India is the world’s largest gem processor. That produced the Far East Diamond Exchange, based in Vladivostok Special Economic Zone where prices can be hedged and returns made.

Jaishankar has also discussed this, saying that “Our two countries are working together to explore opportunities for cooperation in different sectors. We are also working to expand our trade with the region. In the first half of 2021, this figure increased significantly compared to the same period last year. Both of our leaders pay special attention to the development of ties between the various states of India and the Russian Far East regions.”

That has manifested itself with several Indian high-level visits taking place in 2021, including by two oil and natural gas ministers to Vladivostok in September. India also had the largest delegation to the 2021 Far Eastern Economic Forum this year. According to Modi, the concept of “Sangam” implies that Vladivostok is the “confluence” of Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific.

Both parties are continuing to build systems and institutions to expand bilateral engagement in the Russian Far East, with a commissioned study into the feasibility of an Eastern Maritime Corridor to analyze the expansion of bilateral trade along the sea route. That would extend from Vladivostok to Chennai and further West to Mumbai and Gujarat. From there connections can be made to the INSTC and if needed, further north-west via multi-modal routes to Western Russia, creating a massive transshipment corridor from East to West.

Recently, the Gujarat government invited regional Governors from the Russian Far East to attend the 2022 “Vibrant Gujarat” summit (an investor summit held every two years by the state government.

Afghanistan & Regional Security

Meanwhile, Russia and India are also collaborating as regards Afghanistan and regional security, which threatens India as well as Russia. Recent events in Afghanistan have a direct impact on the region and the two countries respective interests, with terrorism, regional instability, drug trafficking, humanitarian aid, being common problems that can only be solved by joint efforts. That has led to the creation of a permanent consultative mechanism between India and Russia, headed by national security advisers (Ajit Doval from the India and Nikolai Patrushev from the Russia) which first met at the Moscow Afghanistan summit meeting in September and was followed through with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev participating in the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue. Both countries are also full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Covid & Healthcare

India and Russia have been cooperating in the fight against COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with cooperation including humanitarian aid, testing and vaccine production. Sputnik V was the first foreign vaccine to be approved for use in India and this is leading to further collaborations in healthcare. Russia’s Gamaleya Institute is one of the world’s top vaccine research organisations, while India possesses the world’s largest vaccine production capabilities.

Free Trade Potential

Also up for discussion will be the proposed India-Eurasian Economic Union FTA, which will also include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan in addition to India and Russia. That would further connect India to Central Asia and Russia with southeast Asia and would provide significant boosts to the prospects for the INSTC as well as the Eastern Economic Corridor.

Not a great amount of attention has been given to the growing trade and development ties between Russia and India. However, we can expect that the Putin-Modi summit will bring the development of this into far greater focus as the not easily understood synergies between these two huge nations begins to emerge. The regional implications will be huge.

Our article The Modi-Putin 2+2 Dialogue Is Expected to Strengthen India-Russia Ties has now appeared following the summit and details numerous initiatives India and Russia will now be working on, such as the INSTC, Eastern Economic Corridor, Green Corridor Project, Pre-Arrival Customs Data, and national railway developments. It can be read here:

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Russia Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Eurasia, including China, Russia, India, and the ASEAN nations, assisting foreign investors into the Eurasian region. Please contact Maria Kotova at russia@dezshira.com for Russian investment advisory or assistance with market intelligence, legal, tax and compliance issues throughout Asia.

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