Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 87

Relations between Russia and India got a boost last week when the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Sergei Ivanov, traveled to New Delhi for two days of talks with top Indian officials. The most significant result of the talks was an announcement that Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin will himself pay a visit to India in early October, when he will conduct a long-awaited summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Athal Behari Vajpayee. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had been slated to visit India, but the health problems which afflicted the Russian leader and political turmoil in one or the other of the two countries led to at least two postponements of Yeltsin’s visit. Those difficulties also postponed the signing of a key strategic partnership agreement between Moscow and New Delhi. The signing of that document, which reportedly has been fully drafted, will now be left to Putin in October.

Preparations for the October summit meeting occupied a prominent place on Ivanov’s agenda during his talks in New Delhi. But the consultations also apparently focused on a host of bilateral and regional security issues. What reports described as Russian-Indian interaction in the battle against international terrorism and religious fundamentalism got particular attention. In fact, a protocol on cooperation in precisely this area was signed by Ivanov and his Indian counterpart, Bradjesh Mishra, on behalf of the national security councils of the two countries. According to Ivanov, the practical effects of the agreement will mean that the two countries will compare their strategic doctrines, while “jointly analyzing the military-political situation in the world and in South and Central Asia.”

The agreement reportedly also stipulates the creation of bilateral working groups which are to exchange information on the state of strategic stability in the world and plans for military construction in Russia and India. The groups will also help to coordinate actions between the two states in the international arena, including the fight against terrorism and religious extremism, Ivanov told reporters. Not surprisingly, the Russian Security Council chief also indicated that India had made clear its support for Russia’s war in the Caucasus, while Moscow offered backing for India in its confrontation with Pakistan over Kashmir. A similar coincidence of opinion occurred, according to Ivanov, in the “attitudes of our states to the events in Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan, which gives considerable support to Afghanistan’s Taliban Islamic movement.”

In the course of his visit to New Delhi, Ivanov held talks not only with Mishra, but also with the Indian prime minister as well as with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Defense Minister George Fernandes. Although few details were made available, military-technical cooperation was reportedly on the agenda during the talks. Indeed, the twenty-man Russian delegation also included Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov (Itar-Tass, April 26-28; AFP, April 27; UPI, April 28). Klebanov oversees the Russian defense industry, is involved in the country’s arms trade and serves as co-chairman of a bilateral working group for military-technical cooperation.

According to an earlier report, he intended to discuss with Indian leaders during last week’s visit the implementation of a cooperation protocol in this area that was signed last November. It sets out a program of long-term military-technical cooperation between the two countries, including joint Russian-Indian work to develop new-generation weapons (Itar-Tass, April 25). Some 70 percent of India’s existing arsenal of conventional weaponry is believed to be of Soviet or Russian origin, and India is now, along with China, one of the two largest purchasers of Russian weaponry in the world.

According to the Times of India, the Indian government attached considerable importance to Ivanov’s visit, in part because it believes that Russia under Putin could emerge as a force to be reckoned with. And though India has dramatically improved its ties with the United States and other Western governments, it reportedly prefers to balance friendly relations with both the West and Russia rather than foregoing its long-time ties to Moscow (Times of India, April 27, 29).

From a Russian domestic perspective, last week’s visit was noteworthy for what it said about Sergei Ivanov. The Russian Security Council head is a close adviser to Putin, and like the Russian president-elect is a career intelligence official. His trip to India–a key Russian ally–as head of a high-level government delegation underscored yet again the important role that he is playing in Russian foreign and security policymaking. Although the Security Council is essentially an advisory body to the Russian president, Sergei Ivanov appears increasingly to be exerting more influence over Russian foreign policy than his namesake at the head of the Foreign Ministry, Igor Ivanov.