Putin’s India Visit: A Review


Rajorshi Roy, http://www.idsa.in/
January 4, 2013

President Putin paid an official visit to India on 24 December 2012 as part of the 13th Annual India-Russia summit. This was his first visit to New Delhi after assuming the office of President for the third time. President Putin held detailed discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also met President Pranab Mukherjee. Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Opposition, and Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of UPA, called on the Russian President. But there was no customary media briefing by the External Affairs Ministry prior to the summit nor was there any joint press conference of the two Heads of States. Putin’s official engagement itself was an extremely short one and got over in less than a day.

Historically, India has shared a multidimensional and strong partnership with the Soviet Union and then with Russia. The year 2012 marks 65 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations. It is Putin who is often referred to as the main architect of the current strategic dialogue because it was under his aegis that the “Declaration of Strategic Partnership between India and the Russian Federation” was signed in the year 2000. It is against this backdrop that one needs to analyze whether Putin’s visit added any real substance and value to the strategic partnership.

Despite the low media attention, 10 bilateral documents were signed during Putin’s visit. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish an Indo-Russia Joint Investment Fund, worth US$ 2 billion, will encourage direct investment and acquisition of assets in critical infrastructural, manufacturing and hydrocarbon extraction sectors. The Joint Venture (JV) to set up a modern industrial facility for the manufacture of Russian helicopters in India will promote the development of a high technology based domestic aerospace industry. The joint collaboration to manufacture pharmaceuticals in Russia along with the IT agreement for developing software, systems integration and emergency response systems can help in producing niche products. The pilot project to assess the feasibility of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) in areas such as disaster management, telephony and long distance communications can pave the way for India to have a useful alternative for the American Global Positioning System (GPS). The two contracts for the supply of 71 Mi-17 helicopters and 42 Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets worth US$ 3.5 to 4 billion were signed will give a boost to India-Russia defence cooperation.

While there are many areas of cooperation between the two countries, yet some irritants continue to trouble the relationship. It is important to highlight some of these, which need to be addressed in order to further cement bilateral ties.

Sistema remains a major irritant and the possibility of Russia seeking recourse to international arbitration, under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPA), cannot be ruled out. The fact that Russia’s titanium Joint Venture in Orissa has also run into rough weather has not helped matters. In a way, Russia has linked Sistema to India’s request for tax concessions in the overvalued and underperforming Imperial Energy Company, which was bought by ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL) in one of its biggest foreign acquisitions. Moreover, the imposition of the Nuclear Liability Law on Units 3 and 4 of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant project remains a sticking point. Russia is also peeved at the suggestion that Roerich’s estate near Bangalore be converted into a waste treatment plant.

India’s weapons diversification policy also remains a matter of concern for Russia since India accounts for close to 30 per cent of Russian revenues from arms exports.1 In certain quarters in the Russian establishment, this issue is looked at through the broader framework of India’s perceived drift towards the West. From India’s perspective, the repeated delay in the delivery of the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya and reports of technical problems affecting the leased Akula nuclear submarine are issues of concern.

Bilateral trade continues to be the most unsatisfactory part of the Indo-Russian partnership, with total trade standing at less than $ 10 billion. While there has been a 30 per cent increase in trade this year as compared to the previous year,2 the true economic potential remains untapped. In terms of sheer numbers, India’s share in Russia’s total trade is a mere 1.11 per cent, while Russia as India’s trade partner in terms of exports ranks 36th and in terms of imports at 27th.3 In fact, most of the thorny issues in the bilateral partnership remain far from being resolved.

While these irritants need to be addressed, there is a positive side to India-Russia bilateral engagement. Russia’s importance for India lies in the fact that the bilateral relationship has withstood the test of time, with the two countries sharing similar views on most matters of international concern. Russia is an independent and powerful country, a member of the P5 and in many ways can be considered as a pole in international diplomacy. Moreover, it holds the key for India in different multilateral forums such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and in the effort to activate the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which can solve the problems of ‘connectivity and accessibility’ with the Eurasian region.

In the defence sector, joint development of equipment not only gives India access to high technology but also modernises its armed forces. The fact that no other country is willing to provide such technology, without attaching any pre-conditions, cannot be overlooked.

At a time when there exists fundamental differences between Russia and the West (lack of missile defence guarantees from the US, EU’s Third Energy Package and NATO expansion Eastwards) and apprehensions about China’s growing assertiveness intensify, India as an emerging and powerful country remains one of Russia’s most reliable partners on the global stage.

In terms of opportunities, there is a need to focus on strengthening economic ties. Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has opened up substantial economic opportunities for India to explore. Lowering of tariffs and import barriers, greater market accessibility and a general improvement in the investment climate bode well for bilateral trade and can provide an impetus to achieve the trade target of $ 20 billion by 2015. It can also facilitate the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between India and the Customs Union comprising of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

India and Russia can explore common synergies in co-developing more weapons platforms. Sharing of both costs and efficient practices and interaction of best scientific and research minds can augment their military capabilities. This may also be seen within the context of Russia’s own massive military modernisation programme, wherein it has earmarked close to $ 700 billion for modernising up to 70 per cent of its armed forces, involving cutting edge military technology, by 2020.4

There are a lot of opportunities in the Science and Technology (S&T) sector for the two countries to take advantage of. The need is to attempt diffusion of high technology from the military into the civilian sphere in order to build national capabilities. This is where R&D and innovation projects come into the picture. Russia still has some of the world’s best scientific minds and research facilities. The opening of an Indo-Russian Science & Technology Centre, one each in Delhi-NCR and Moscow, to tap this potential is a step in the right direction.

For energy deficient India, the opportunities of cooperation with resource rich Russia is immense. Nuclear energy is a key element of the India-Russia partnership. Moreover, with West Asia in a state of perpetual turmoil, India can look to diversify its energy imports by exploring hydrocarbon investment opportunities in Russia’s Far East, Arctic and Siberian regions. The opening up of the Arctic and advances in technology indicates that Russia’s Arctic energy reserves will be exploited in the near future. Russia’s offer of a stake in the Madagan 2 oil-field along with GAIL’s 20 year, 2.5 million annual tonnes-of LNG deal with Gazprom5 can just be the beginning of a more robust India-Russia energy cooperation. There is also a need for greater people to people interaction, especially between the younger generation who can be made aware of each other’s histories and national capabilities.

On the foreign policy front, both India and Russia share apprehensions about China’s assertiveness, despite significantly improving their bilateral ties with it. Together, they can attempt to engage China in SCO and Russia-India-China trilateral meetings. Moreover, current developments in Afghanistan remain a matter of concern for both India and Russia. They can work together to achieve the similar objective of bringing stability and prosperity to that country. This is where SCO offers a common platform for all the regional countries to work on Afghanistan in the post 2014 American withdrawal scenario. India and Russia can also explore common synergies in their endeavour to create a multi-polar world order and reforming global governance structures.

Putin’s visit to India does show some mixed results. While an effort was made to strengthen the strategic partnership, some difficult issues have proved to be a stumbling block. Nevertheless, Manmohan Singh’s statement about ‘Indo-Russian partnership having a special place in the hearts and minds of Indians’ and his ‘commitment to further strengthen ties’ do hold promise for the future. India and Russia cannot afford to dilute their bilateral relations and they both require each other. Therefore, they need to synergise cooperation in the economic and security arenas in particular. In the present context, the challenge is to reinvigorate the current state of the partnership. As Russian Ambassador Kadakin aptly put it ‘India is Russia’s closest friend’.6 The reverse also holds true.

  1. 1.“Russia and USA to fight for India’s defense billions”, Pravda, July 25, 2012,http://english.pravda.ru/world/asia/25-07-2012/121734-russia_usa_india-0/, Accessed on January 1, 2013.
  2. 2.“Prime Minister’s statement to the media at the 13th India-Russia Annual Summit”, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, December 24, 2012, http://www.mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?20990/Prime+Ministers+stateme…, Accessed on January 1, 2013.
  3. 3.“India, Russia strengthen ties via $4 bn defence deals”, The Economic Times, December 25, 2012,http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-12-25/news/35999304_1_…, Accessed on December 28, 2012.
  4. 4.“Russia to prioritize modern weaponry in new arms acquisition program”, Rianovosti, March 3, 2011,http://en.rian.ru/military_news/20110311/162956743.html, Accessed on January 1, 2013.
  5. 5.“Gazprom and GAIL enter into long-term LNG purchase and sale contract”, Gazprom, October 1, 2012,http://www.gazprom.com/press/news/2012/october/article145120/, Accessed on January 1, 2013.
  6. 6.“We have no other friend closer than India: Kadakin”, Russia and India Report, December 25, 2012,http://indrus.in/articles/2012/12/25/we_have_no_other_friend_closer_than… Accessed on January 1, 2013.

 

#Russia -#Censorship f’Internet blacklist law takes effect #FOS #FOE


Children using a computer

Nov 1, 2012  BBC

A law that aims to protect children from harmful internet content by allowing the government to take sites offline has taken effect in Russia.

The authorities are now able to blacklist and force offline certain websites without a trial.

The law was approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin in July.

Human rights groups have said the legislation might increase censorship in the country.

The law is the amendment to the current Act for Information.

The authorities say the goal is to protect minors from websites featuring sexual abuse of children, offering details about how to commit suicide, encouraging users to take drugs and sites that solicit children for pornography.

If the websites themselves cannot be shut down, internet service providers (ISPs) and web hosting companies can be forced to block access to the offending material.

It will be [an attack on] the freedom of speech on the internet”

Yuri VdovinCitizens’ Watch

Critics have described it another attempt by President Vladimir Putin to exercise control over the population.

“Of course there are websites that should not be accessible to children, but I don’t think it will be limited to that,” Yuri Vdovin, vice-president of Citizens’ Watch, a human rights organisation based in Saint-Petersburg, told the BBC.

“The government will start closing other sites – any democracy-oriented sites are at risk of being taken offline.

“It will be [an attack on] the freedom of speech on the internet.”

Mr Vdovin said that to close a website, the government would simply have to say that its content was “harmful to children”.

“But there are lots of harmful websites out there already, for example, fascist sites – and they could have easily been closed down by now – but no, [the government] doesn’t care, there are no attempts to do so,” he added.

A risk for websites?

Besides NGOs and human rights campaigners, websites including the Russian search engine giant Yandex, social media portal Mail.ru and the Russian-language version of Wikipedia have all protested against the law.

Screengrab of Russian Wikipedia pageThe Russian version of Wikipedia went dark for a day in protest at the law in July

The latter, for instance, took its content offline for a day ahead of the vote in July, claiming the law “could lead to the creation of extra-judicial censorship of the entire internet in Russia, including banning access to Wikipedia in the Russian language”.

Yandex temporarily crossed out the word “everything” in its “everything will be found” logo.

“The way the new law will work depends on the enforcement practice,” said a spokesman.

“Yandex, along with other key Russian market players, is ready to discuss with lawmakers the way it is going to work.”

In July, the Russian social networking site Vkontakte posted messages on users’ homepages warning that the law posed a risk to its future.

However, the country’s telecom minister Nikolai Nikiforov, suggested that such concerns were overblown when he spoke at the NeForum blogging conference this week.

“Internet has always been a free territory,” he said, according to a reportby Russian news agency Tass.

“The government is not aimed at enforcing censorship there. LiveJournal, YouTube and Facebook showcase socially responsible companies.

“That means that they will be blocked only if they refuse to follow Russian laws, which is unlikely, in my opinion.

 

 

In Defense of Pussy Riot and the Russian Punk Movement


 

AUGUST 09, 2012

Taking Heroic Stands Against Bigotry, Censorship and the Abuse of Power

by CHRIS RANDOLPH

Yesterday CounterPunch printed an ignorant defense of the pending imprisonment of Russian female punk band Pussy Riot by economic columnist Mike Whitney.  I choose the word “ignorant” carefully; Whitney seems genuinely uninformed about the decades-old Russian punk movement and the Russian social conditions they navigate.

Once upon the time the Left was in favor of free speech, feminism, and confrontational protest, and simultaneously suspicious of authoritarian predatory privatizers, misogynist clerics and prudish censors.  From the many articles and comments like Whitney’s in the (putatively) left of center blogosphere, we learn that the American Left is now quite alright with misogynist religion, censorship, rigged trials and the like just as long as the oppressing government is a foreign policy foil of the United States.  This turns so-called progressives into just another group of intellectually dishonest bigots.

The first logically erroneous and morally indefensible position of the Pussy Riot-bashers is the notion that because Vladimir Putin sometimes has decent (and self-interested) foreign policy positions, it should not nor could not be possible to criticize him for any other reason.  Potable water is a resource of which our planet has shortages; wrongness unfortunately is in abundant renewable supply.  It’s entirely possible to be critical of American foreign policy and Russian internal repression at the same time, and none of the champions of the Pussy Riot prosecution have even attempted to explain their impossible and ridiculous implication that the two are mutually exclusive.  It becomes intellectually dishonest on the part of Whitney and others not even to attempt to make any such case.

Putin and the very rich thugs who run Russia – the new 1% of that country – came to power in the climate of privatization pushed by American economic hatchet men such as the vile Larry Summers.  They have been stripping Russia of natural resources through former state-held utilities and other newly private companies and the economic growth this has spurred has been very poorly distributed, by design ending up in the pockets of well-connected oligarchs.  In the first ten years of an independent Russia, a small number of people became rich while the average life expectancy for a male dropped a shocking three years.  This led to the new sardonic Russian aphorism that “Everything they told us about communism was a lie and everything they told us about capitalism was true.”

Just a few months ago Putin backed a harsh austerity regime titled Strategy 2020 for Russia’s poor, indistinguishable in its detail from the sort being imposed in Greece, Spain or here in the United States.  Putin is raising the male retirement pension age by five years for men and eight for women, which, given Russian life expectancy, will effectively rob many poor Russians of any retirement at all.  Putin is also shifting the burden of funding pension funds, which had been 100% the employer’s responsibility, to workers themselves, now planning to get workers to fund up to 15% of those funds from their already meager salaries.

Strategy 2020 also calls for renegotiating the salaries of public workers downward, and for cutting social spending across the board.  While the Pussy Riot critics in the US like to paint Putin as the second coming of Fidel Castro, he is in fact more accurately compared to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Against this backdrop of unfettered crony capitalism, the Russian state has maintained a repressive attitude toward the right to speak and protest, most viciously launching repeated brutal police attacks upon gays and lesbians attempting to hold peaceful marches for basic civil rights.  These marches too have also upset the patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, a hypocritical church – if this is not a redundant phrase – which has managed to make peace with any human rights-denying power structure in the country for several decades somehow without noting any evident sin.

It was my understanding that the Left was fine with upsetting vicious old men who lie about a special relationship with God in order to oppress women.  Pussy Riot detractors have a responsibility to tell us how and why this has changed.  I don’t believe they will because I don’t believe they can.

The less said about the alleged popularity of Putin the better.  In 1984 Ronald Reagan scored a crushing victory over Walter Mondale among that portion of the population who bothered voting.  I have no recollection of the American Left at that time declaring that criticism of Reagan, his policies, or the religious charlatans who supported his administration therefore became inappropriate or somehow invalid.  We have regressed several decades, if not centuries, if it becomes necessary for anyone to defend the act of criticizing a politician who wins an electoral victory.

The United States badly needs an angry group of young women charging the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and denouncing the many crimes of Barack Obama.  Shame on us as a society for not yet producing the same.

Whitney and others commit lazy, craven and inaccurate libel against Pussy Riot and their millions of supporters within Russia with the claim that they are “useful idiots.”  These critics place themselves in general agreement not only with elders of the church but with Russia’s neo-Nazi skinhead movement, both of whom have denounced Pussy Riot for being misbehaved little girls.

Punk has been a major influence in Russian (and Soviet) counterculture since the early 1980s.  It is not as if these ladies have taken up something new nor something that’s just landed in Moscow last week, courtesy of American intelligence.  This isn’t NSC or CIA money; these people are real artists steeped in Russian counterculture and they want better lives for themselves and their fellow citizens.  The band members have been pulling stunts like this since their teens, their most infamous previous stunts include filming themselves kissing subway police and a media-invitation public orgy.

It would be refreshing if for once Americans, even and especially ones labelled progressives, could imagine that non-Americans have some agency in their own lives and societies.  It would be refreshing if not every action of foreign residents were assumed to be for the benefit of Americans.

I became aware of Russian punk in the late 1980s through issue #59 of the essential American hardcore punk zine MaximumRocknRoll, which focused upon the brave bands of the former Soviet Union, people who faced prison time and police beatings for their songs and haircuts.  By that time the controversial Yegor Letov and his band Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) were major figures and influences in underground arts and politics in Russia, and had been for several years.  I still have a cassette the band sent me me for the princely sum of US$3 when writing to their listed address.

Whitney and others would do well to use the internet to delve into the 30 year indigenous history of Russian punk, not only Grazhdanskaya Oborona but classic bands such as Va-Bank and Naive, the latter having met by chance in the same Soviet tank corps.  Through old guard communism, perestroika and now the oligarchy, Russian bands have taken heroic stands against bigotry, censorship, and abuse of power.  The bravery and intelligence of these groups can not be overstated; Pussy Riot is their rightful heir.

There is one vital question the American cavalier Pussy Riot critic needs to answer.  If they are “useful idiots,” what variety of idiot are you?

Chris Randolph lives in Philly and can be reached through his blog.

 

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