An interview with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discusses Indian-Russian relations: strategic partnership, bilateral trade, energy resources – “Our countries are natural partners” – defense sector cooperation, and the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran.

Question: How is Indian-Russian strategic partnership developing?

Manmohan Singh: Our partnership is unique. Two of the major players in the international arena have maintained a firm friendship for decades, while relations between other states have gone through periodic crises. The reason is that our interests are compatible. Geopolitical and national interests alike. Certain present-day phenomena are causing particular concern in both Moscow and New Delhi. Extensive infrastructure, established next door to our countries, is being used worldwide by terrorists, religious extremists, and drug traffickers. We have an interest in keeping these dangerous forces under control. Between 2000 and 2006, we held six high-level bilateral meetings with Vladimir Putin. And we feel that the latest visit by the Russian leader will add content to our contacts, especially in the economic sphere.

Question: Moscow and New Delhi have set the objective of increasing bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2010. But isn’t that target too modest?

Manmohan Singh: Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, both Russia and India liberalized their economies. As a result, the state has ceased to be an arbiter in bilateral trade. Decisions regarding what to buy, and how much to buy, are now made on a purely commercial basis. India now has to compete with other countries in the Russian market – and vice versa. This accounts for the relatively small volume of bilateral trade – around $3 billion. We are not satisfied with that. It won’t be easy to reach the $10 billion mark by 2010. We’ll have to work hard and be innovative. India is becoming a world-class player in pharmaceuticals and auto-making. Russia has impressive potential in the metals, energy, and mining sectors.

Question: India has shown some interest in hydrocarbon deliveries from Russia, but so far it’s only participating in the Sakhalin-1 project. Is New Delhi interested in expanding cooperation in other parts of the energy sector – such as nuclear power?

Manmohan Singh: The energy sector could transform the very nature of our economic contacts. We would like our cooperation with Russia in this area to increase many times over. The Indian economy is growing at 8-9% a year, but per capita energy consumption still isn’t very high at all. India’s annual imports of energy resources come to around 120 million tons, and are expected to increase to 200 million tons by 2015. In the long term, India is a gigantic market for energy resources. Our countries are natural partners. We would like to extend the experience of Sakhalin-1 to other oil fields. We are prepared to invest more if the opportunity arises. We are also ready to invite Russian companies to participate in Indian oil-and-gas projects. As for nuclear power, Russia is building two reactors for India at Kudankulam.

Question: What are the prospects for bilateral cooperation in diamond-mining?

Manmohan Singh: We would like Russia to supply diamonds to us. I hope to discuss this issue with Vladimir Putin.

Question: In the military technology area, Russia and India are emphasizing licensed production and joint research and development. Cooperation on modernizing the BraMos missile has been a successful example. Is India prepared to extend this experience to other sectors – such as outer space?

Manmohan Singh: Defense sector cooperation, going back to the Soviet era, is an important element in trust and stability. Most of the hardware used by the three arms of the Indian Armed Forces comes from Russia. Since the collapse of the USSR, India has placed some major defense orders with Russia – such as the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, T-90 tanks, and Su-30MKI aircraft. India and Russia agreed to move from a supplier-client relationship to joint research and development, production, and marketing for military hardware. The supersonic BraMos missile is a splendid example of these efforts. In the space sector, India and Russia have agreed to cooperate on the GLONASS program, along with launching the Youth Satellite, designed by universities in both countries.

Question: There have been media reports about the possibility of India buying Russian-made strategic warplanes and nuclear submarines.

Manmohan Singh: I don’t want to comment on media speculation. We have signed a contract for Russian Su-30MKI aircraft, and this contract is being fulfilled. Our Navy has several Russian-made submarines.

Question: Is New Delhi concerned about North Korea’s nuclear test and Iran’s nuclear program?

Manmohan Singh: All countries which undertake international obligations should abide by them. We are deeply concerned about the test carried out by North Korea. This event affects regional peace and security. As for Iran, it is our neighbor – we have good relations with Iran and wish it success. Having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Question: What does India think of United Nations reforms?

Manmohan Singh: This organization ought to reflect contemporary realities, not the balance of power at the time it was founded. The United Nations needs comprehensive reforms. The list of Security Council members should be expanded. We want to become a permanent member of the Security Council, and we’re counting on Russia’s support.