With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin slated to meet early next month amid a perceptible lack of spontaneity of late in the age-old warm relationship between the two countries, there is political grandstanding on display to win concessions from each other. While Russia is keen that India should pull out of cold storage the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with that country for developing Kudankulam 5 and 6 reactors in Tamil Nadu, India wants Russia to work harder on China to ensure that India gets the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which the latter has been blocking. There are reports that a gentle warning has been held out to Russia that India will stall cooperation with its foreign partners for development of its civil nuclear programme if it is unable to become a full member of the NSG. At Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s recent meeting with Modi it is believed that no assurances were given on the signing of the MoU which was a reflection of India’s expectation of Russian reciprocity.
It is no secret that the Russians have been working increasingly in tandem with China on global issues. Recently, while India boycotted the One Belt One Road summit hosted by China on sovereignty issues, Russia was an enthusiastic participant. India now feels that it is time to put Russia’s friendship with India to test. Both Russia and India realize that without the MoU, there would be no real takeaway from the Putin-Modi summit. India is believed to have told Moscow that without NSG membership in the next couple of years India would have no option but to go for an indigenous nuclear energy programme. It now remains to be seen whether India’s stand makes any difference to Russia’s lukewarm attitude to India’s quest for membership of NSG. It would indeed be interesting to see how the Russians respond to Modi considering that Moscow sees nuclear energy cooperation as the most significant part of the Indo-Russian relationship. The MoU with Russia was first meant to be signed on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa last year and despite technical issues like pricing and technology having been settled, India has been delaying signing the MoU for its own sound reasons.
The Putin-Modi summit will indeed be a pointer to the direction that India-Russia relationship will take in coming days. It is important that New Delhi weans the Russians away from Pakistan. A balanced give and take approach on both sides could indeed help in ironing out the creases in the relationship.