Ever since India started to increase its economic cooperation with Russia after the Ukraine-Russia war, the naysayers started to claim that this will turn out to be a fatal flaw. Our EAM S. Jaishankar was once even questioned about the viability. The logic given by the person putting query in front on him was that in case Sino-India conflict goes to next level, Russia would always side with China. It turns out that China is now at the risk of isolation.
India and Russia friendship has been going on for last 7 decades. We are still indebted to Russian timely intervention during 1971 war. Additionally, most of our military imports were sourced from Russia with the percentage sometimes going as high as 80. However, economic relations could never achieve its desired potential. This is where China filled the gap. The increased economic bond between Russia and China led experts to believe that India’s priority will be on number 2 for Russia. Well, with multi-modal trade set to skyrocket in coming years, India is set to fill the gap.
INSTC altering the equation
One of the most important part of trades is connectivity. This is where India and Russia are at geographical advantage. But, INSTC corridor is going to solve the problem to a great extent. The corridor is 7,200 kms long. It connects India’s Mumbai to Russia’s St. Petersburg. North and West Europe, Persian Gulf , Central Asia, Caspian Sea are some of the major components of the corridor. INSTC has brought down the carriage cost by more than 30 per cent while the transit time has been reduced to 20 days, which was earlier 40 days. If its full potential is realised then INSTC will drastically reduce India’s energy requirements.
Talking specifically about India, just like China announced its arrival on global stage with the announcement of Belt and Road initiative, India can also leverage INSTC. Moreover, INSTC fits in the scheme of India’s rise as a responsible power. Unlike BRI which has been at the centre of debt-trap diplomacy and has often come off as a violator of territorial sovereignty of component nations, INSTC agreement has been ratified by 13 countries which include Tajikistan, Turkey and Oman among others.
Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime corridor on the way
While INSTC has hogged all the limelight, another project connecting India’s Chennai to Russia’s Valdivostok has got relatively less attention. During PM Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in 2019, India and Russia signed a memorandum of intent to open a full-fledged maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok. The sea route covers 10,300 kms. It is expected to cut short the current 40 days shipment timing to 24 days. The route will sort out the recurring issues like an absent private sector and poor logistics which have historically hampered bilateral trade between both countries. The trade route will provide multiple points of advantages to both countries.
It will drastically increase India-Russia oil trade which is already at an exceptional level at this moment. Though, the main reason for currently increased trade is Western sanctions, the maritime route will solidify it. In the wake of India’s oil demand increasing by 1.5 times in 2040, it will be immensely beneficial for us and at the same time, Russia won’t need much of the Chinese market. Similarly, the route will also shorten India’s gas dependence on Gulf. It sounds unbelievable, but our 40 per cent of gas needs are fulfilled by Qatar alone. On the other hand, the demand for Russian LNG has stagnated in Japan and South Korea, its traditional destinations. The maritime route can alter equations for both these countries.
Both countries are also working towards increasing their cooperation in sectors such as mining, diamonds, and other hydrocarbon. Riding on the back of engagement in aforementioned sectors, India and Russia have set bilateral trade to reach $30 billion by 2025. The last hurdle in the way was sanctions on Russia. India removed it by internationalising Rupee.
It is amply clear that Russia considers India as a reliable partner while it considers China as only a economic one. Why would they? China has been contesting its borders on far east and even during Ukraine-Russia crisis, it did not explicitly support it in United Nations. No wonder, Russia did not hesitate to support India with S-400 in the middle of Galwan valley offensive.
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