Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 237

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov wound up a two-day visit to India yesterday, during which the two countries signed a package of bilateral accords and pledged next year to sign a wide-ranging “strategic partnership” agreement. Primakov was standing in for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whose health problems forced cancellation of a major Russian-Indian summit meeting which had been scheduled for early December. Yeltsin had been scheduled to travel to New Delhi earlier in the year as well, but that visit also fell through.

The most important of the seven agreements signed yesterday was a military-technical cooperation pact which extends an earlier Russian-Indian military agreement until the year 2010. The accord is crucial to Russia’s floundering defense industrial sector, which has been devastated by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and subsequent deep reductions in the Russian government’s procurement budget. Russian sources estimate that the country’s arms exports to India in recent years have totaled some US$800 million annually. They suggest that those revenues could rise even higher under the new agreement (Russian agencies, December 21).

The two countries also pledged during Primakov’s visit to increase general bilateral trade. “By 2000 we will double the size of our trade,” Primakov was quoted as saying (Reuters, December 22). Bilateral trade between the two former Cold War allies fell to US$1.79 billion last year from a level of some US$5.5 billion in 1991 (Kyodo, December 21).

The pledge to sign a “strategic partnership” agreement sometime next year, which was contained in a joint statement released by the Russian and Indian sides yesterday, highlighted the renewed importance which Moscow has attached to its ties with India. Since 1996 Russia has had a “strategic partnership” with China, and Moscow views friendly ties with the two Asian giants as the linchpins of its foreign policy both in the region and globally. The Indian-Russian “strategic partnership” agreement will reportedly be signed during a visit by Boris Yeltsin to India, now rescheduled for sometime in 1999.

Primakov further underscored Moscow’s determination to strengthen ties to New Delhi when he announced that Russia would consider supporting India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. “Russia considers India, an influential member of the international community, to be a strong and appropriate candidate for permanent membership of an expanded Security Council,” the joint Russian-Indian statement said (Reuters, Russian agencies, December 22). That statement, and, indeed, Primakov’s visit itself, reflected the lengths which Moscow is apparently willing to go to cement ties with New Delhi. The Russian prime minister is the first head of state to visit India since May of this year, when New Delhi earned world condemnation by conducting nuclear tests.

Primakov was apparently rebuffed, however, in an effort to fashion Moscow’s friendly relations with New Delhi and Beijing into some sort of three-way agreement. On December 21 the Russian prime minister had raised the prospect of a Russian-Indian-Chinese “strategic triangle” which, in Primakov’s words, would ensure peace and stability in the world. Later in the day, however, Primakov retreated, telling reporters that his call for a “strategic triangle” had not been an official proposal. There was little evidence that the subject had been broached again in yesterday’s discussions (Russian agencies, December 21-22; Reuters, December 22).