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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 12, March 7, 2009

Resurgent Russia and its Growing Engagement with South Asia

Saturday 7 March 2009, by Vyacheslav I. Trubnikov


The following is the text of the P.N. Haksar Memorial Lecture delivered by Vyacheslav I. Trubnikov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to India, at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh, on November 29, 2008.

It is a pleasure and honour for me to be here among friends and colleagues to deliver the Haksar Memorial Lecture. Today, I will try to look into the changing global scenario in the light of Russia’s growing political and economic role and in particular through the perspective of our strengthening ties with India as a strategic partner and the South Asian region as a whole.

The interest in the world towards Russia has recently been on the rise due to its sound economic and political rebound. My country has virtually returned to the centre-stage of global affairs with renewed vigour and considerably enhanced potential.

For the first time in years Russia has found itself ready to switch from addressing tactical tasks and crisis response to forming long-term development goals. The current government has clearly indicated that it is set to carry on comprehensive political and socio-economic modernisation which envisages strengthening of civil society and the middle-class, as well as liberalisation of economic policies. This in turn is sure to bring about a substantial increase in the quality of life of Russian citizens—a primary task the Russian leadership is faced with.

The year 2007-2008 had a special significance for the Russian Federation, its social and political stability, economic development and role in global politics. The State Duma elections were held in December 2007 followed by presidential elections and creation of a new government in 2008. It was the first time that the State Duma elections were held under the proportional system. It was done to ensure further democratisation of the electoral system. Thus my country passed through a comprehensive renewal of the supreme legislative and executive authorities.

Both elections signified the considerable support by the people of Russia for the course chosen in the year of 2000. President Dmitry Medvedev and the new Duma made it clear that they would take every effort to maintain continuity of the policy based on Russian national interest.

It is worth recalling that eight years ago the country was in a dire predicament, which we have managed to overcome. Much effort has been made to achieve a clear delimitation of powers as well as an optimal balance between federal, regional and local authorities. The situation in the North Caucasus has normalised. Decisive steps were taken in close cooperation with the Chechen local authorities to restore law and order, boost the economy and social sector of the Republic.

The stability achieved in recent years gave Russia an opportunity to adopt a long-term strategy aimed at bringing prosperity and well-being to its citizens. Our top priority is to develop the tremendous human potential in our country which is the main condition of progress. Several years ago the Russian Government launched a series of long-term socially-oriented national projects to provide quality education, modern health care, affordable housing and efficient agriculture. Their successful implementation is now providing strong incentives to industrial growth, high-tech, public and private sectors of the economy.

Step-by-step modernisation of the Armed Forces is currently underway. It includes the following major initiatives: efficient principles of recruitment, development of new generation weaponry, consolidation of the defence and industrial complex, adequate social provisions and housing for the military.

Space research is also a national priority. Russia has recently announced a number of important initiatives in this sphere which include construction of a new launch pad Vostochny by 2015, development of the new Angara booster rocket and upgrade of the statellite fleet. We look forward to make GLONASS—the Russian Global navigation system—fully operational in the near future. I am happy to note that India is taking part in this ambitious project.

New horizons have opened for developing sports in the country. The selection of Sochi as the host for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games is a result of Russia’s growing international influence and recognition of our achievements.

Guided by our national interests we have been pursuing a balanced and coherent diplomatic course. President Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly reiterated the consistency of Russia’s foreign policy and in one of his recent interviews declared its five fundamental principles.

First of all, Russia believes in the supremacy of international law and its defining role in the relations between civilised nations. We seek to build our contacts with other countries within this universally accepted legal framework.

Secondly, we are convinced the world must be multi-polar. Unipolarity is not a viable option nowadays. Russia cannot accept a pattern of international relations, when all decisions are made by a single nation. Such a world order is doomed to be unstable and fraught with conflicts.

Thirdly, Russia does not want confrontation with any country. Neither we want isolation. We are keen to develop friendly relations with the European Union, the United States and all other members of the world community.

Fourth, protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestio-nable priority for Russia. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this fundamental principle. There must not be any doubt that we will respond to any aggressive acts targeted against us.

We will also safeguard the interests of our business community abroad. This includes protecting our companies from unfair treatment but also envisages a host of measures meant to reduce the risks of Russia’s integration into the global economy and ensure the country’s economic security. Among them are (1) facilitating reform of global economic institutions and financial architecture, (2) evolving a fair system of international trade, (3) ensuring Russia’s rightful participation in international economic organisations, and (4) diversifying Russia’s commercial ties.

Fifth and finally, as is the case with other countries, there are regions where Russia has privileged interests. Such regions are home to our good neighbours with which we share common history and are bound together by a tradition of close friendship and centuries-old cooperation. Naturally, relations with those countries are destined to be at the top of Russia’s diplomatic agenda.

These five principles were declared imme-diately after the so called “five-day war” in the Caucasus highlighting the consistency of our foreign policy despite attempts to play geopolitical games against Russia using local conflicts or other unfair means.

There is no doubt that dramatic changes have been spurred by the recent events to the South of Russia. For many people, both in our country and abroad, they marked the end of any illusions that we live in a fair world and that the existing security system is most efficient in keeping the world in balance and promoting equilibrium between major players on the global stage. What is obvious for us now is that making our world a safe place is an urgent task which requires concerted pro-active steps on the part of all constructive forces.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about a possible return of the Cold War. Of course this is neither in our interest, nor in the interest of the West. The countries there who think that tension is growing, certainly have the power to defuse it. For that pragmatic action and a forward-looking approach are of utmost necessity.

Russia has been for a long time a leading proponent of comprehensive and well-balanced security system. We have repeatedly proposed joint initiative to our American and European partners, notably in the address of Vladimir Putin in Munich in February 2007. The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, recently made proposals concerning a new Euro-Atlantic treaty. I think that the process of building a new security architecture must be fast tracked. We are obviously not happy with the existing one and it is not because we see no place in it for Russia. Neither Russian ambitions are an issue as some argue. The problem is that the current security system is in a state of serious breakdown, which translates into chronic political instability, exacerbation of regional crises and border disputes, and sometimes, in a worst-case scenario, leads to bloodshed.

When we speak about Conventional Forces in Europe, NATO expansion and American missile defences, it concerns not only Russia and the West. Whether we find or fail to find solutions to these problems, they will certainly have adverse or positive implications for global disarmament and strategic stability in general. If there is no headway in these areas, no cut in military spending, this will prove to be a major setback to our search for solutions to the real challenges confronting us, such as poverty, climate change, energy security and the emerging global food crisis. They cannot be addressed through the use of force; instead they need to be dealt with by a firm collaborative effort, targeting primarily their root causes.

The constraints of the unipolar world order in this regard have become visible these days. Unable to tackle the real issues it succeeded only in heightening tension and generating new conflicts which have put global stability in jeopardy. A multipolar system is fast coming to replace the unipolar one and the recent global financial crisis is an evidence of this growing tendency in the world development. It is only by concerted efforts and engaging the leading and rising economies that this problem could be addressed.

Though Russia, being an integral part of the world economic system, could not be completely immune to the problems faced by other countries, yet the impact on the Russian economy is not as profound and overwhelming as in many other parts of the globe. Russia possesses considerable foreign exchange reserves and other safety mechanisms that guarantee our financial and economic stability. Developed market institutions combined with reasonable state regulation are the basis for our self-confidence. Despite the crisis we expect GDP growth to be around six -to-seven per cent in the current year. This growth is driven, above all, by strong domestic demand.

We are going to adhere to the decision taken by the G-20 summit, but we will also implement all necessary measures to protect our national interests. I would like to underline that the impact of the global financial crisis on our stock market will by no means entail any revision of our strategic plans of socio-economic development of Russia.

At the same time we are fully aware of the concerns expressed by our Indian partners and share their approaches on how to tackle the global meltdown. We see great potential in collaboration with India in this sphere and it was clearly shown at the separate meeting of the Finance Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China on the sidelines of the preliminary conference in San Paolo. We call for the reform of the global financial architecture considering the structural changes in the world economy and the growing role of the emerging markets. Reforms of the International Monetary Fund and of the World Bank Group should move towards more equitable representation of developing countries. The Financial Stability Forum should broaden its membership and include a significant number of emerging economies. Developing countries in general should be given support and access to financial resources in order to overcome the present negative trends. All these points reflecting our common position were incorporated in the final G-20 summit declaration.

We have a huge amount of work ahead of us. Of course, we shall closely cooperate with our partners in the CIS and with our friends in Europe, the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. The aim of our diplomatic efforts is to promote a stable system of relations on the basis of international law and multilateral approaches. Multilateral cooperation and collective mechanism, with the UN playing a central coordinating role, must become solid pillars of a future world pattern.

The South Asian Region has an ever-increasing significance in the framework of multivector diplomacy of the Russian Federation. Russia through its positions in the international fora and at bilateral level is becoming more actively engaged in the political and economic processes of this region. We have explored considerable vistas of cooperation with Bangladesh that could give a start to some major projects in the near future. Russia is attentively watching the developments in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal in terms of the new opportunities in those countries. In our engagement with the region we specially focus on our traditional partner India, where reliability has been proven by a long-standing history of mutual communication.

India’s achievement over the recent 15-20 years give every reason to consider it an emerging great power destined to play an important role in the global scenario and have a mighty say in world affairs. Russian-Indian bilateral cooperation nowadays embraces a multitude of areas such as trade and economy, culture, science and technology, defence and military-technical cooperation, peaceful use of atomic energy and outer space exploration. In 2000 Moscow and New Delhi established a tradition of annual summits which have been augmented by active interaction at both official and people-to-people level, including consultations between the Foreign Ministries, meetings between the Security Councils, Parliaments and judiciaries of the two countries, as well as diverse business contacts. Moscow and New Delhi, being natural allies in combating inter-national terrorism, drug trafficking and trans-national crime, are set to further coordinate their efforts in this dimension.

Russia has always backed India in difficult situations and is genuinely pleased to see its remarkable achievements. The adoption by the Nuclear Suppliers Group of the Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India, has paved the way for complete removal of export restrictions on nuclear collaboration. Now there is ample opportunity to give a substantial boost to Russian-Indian cooperation in this crucial sphere. We are both keen to increase the potential of “Kundankulam” nuclear power plant, and in the long run to jointly build nuclear power plants in other regions of India as well.

We acknowledge India’s stabilising role in Asia and welcome its initiatives of regional integration and efforts to create a friendly and cooperative environment in this part of the world. We are glad to see the increasing involvement of India in the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) over which Russia is presiding in 2008-2009. This regional forum is fast evolving into one of the most authoritative organisations in Eurasia. Apart from BRIC that I have mentioned above we have managed to galvanise the activities of the troika Russia-India-China. Our contacts in these for a are based on the vast cooperation opportunities and common approaches towards pressing international problems.

Now we are set to bolster the strategic partner-ship between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India. In this context today’s discussion is all the more interesting as it takes place just on the eve of the visit of President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev to India. The upcoming summit, I am confident, will impart a new major impetus to our relation-ship. It will bring about increased coordination on key international problems and expansion of economic, scientific and military-technical cooperation.

In conclusion, I would like to express my appreciation of the contribution made by the Indian academic community towards consoli-dating our partnership. You provide solid support for preserving the consensus that exists in our countries on the importance of further development of Russian-Indian relations. Thank you.

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