The disquiet in the national capital may have robbed the visit of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of some of its visibility. But even otherwise, it is doubtful if Mr Putin’s one-day swoop on India would have generated as much interest as the visit of his counterpart in the United States of America. This is not merely because Indians take the Russian president — emblazoned in public memory as much for his muscles as for his intolerance of popular dissent —less seriously. It is perhaps because India’s political establishment, having itself lost much of the earlier enthusiasm for Russia, is no longer intent on generating any public interest. However, India’s desperation to re-invent its foreign policy and leave behind its Nehruvian past has not matched the progress it has achieved on these matters. Its relationship with the US has improved vastly, but not so much as to enable India to replace Russia as its chief partner in meeting its civilian energy or defence needs. India’s dependence on Russia on these concerns was once again reflected in its recent deals with Russia. Agreements for sharing of cutting-edge weapons technology, assembly of fighter aircraft and production of helicopters worth billions of dollars have accompanied India’s nod to further collaboration with Russia for two more nuclear reactors for Koodankulam. In exchange, Russia has promised to secure India’s assistance in the exploration of oil and gas fields in its far eastern and Siberian regions and further its investment opportunities in Russia.
The apparent bonhomie during Mr Putin’s visit, however, cannot pull a cover on the irritants that are dogging India’s ties with Russia. India has had issues with Russia on the enormous delays over defence supplies and its growing proximity to Pakistan. Russia too has not taken kindly to India’s nuclear liability clauses that jeopardize the civilian nuclear deal and the mess over Sistema, the Russian telecommunications company, which has found its massive investment blocked by the judicial censure that has followed the 2G investigations. Bilateral trade between the countries has also floundered. This is unfortunate because with even more serious problems with India, China has not allowed its trading ties with India to sag. Perhaps India should learn from its more immediate communist neighbour and go back to the drawing board on Russia.