Defence Minister A K Antony begins a three-day visit to Moscow on October 13 to co-chair the India-Russia Inter Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation. The visit, coming as it is, on the heels of President Pratibha Devisingh Patil's high-profile visit to Russia in September and ahead of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's proposed visit to Russia in December, is another important step in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
Although major events in recent times have changed the trajectory of world politics and equations between and among countries, India-Russia relations have not only withstood the test of time, but have also grown from strength to strength.
The relations between the two countries have been redefined taking into account new realities and without losing the basic tenets and fundamentals that have sustained them all these years.
No words perhaps can better describe the time-tested relationship between the two countries than what President Patil told her Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev during her visit, that 'our unique bilateral relationship' defied the dictum that 'there are no permanent friends but only permanent interests', and added that 'the bonds between India and the Russian Federation are special and enduring and founded on civilisational and historical ties between the two countries'.
It is significant that there has been regular exchange of visits at various levels between India and Russia and the leaders of the two countries have been meeting at regular intervals not only at bilateral summit meetings but also at the margins of multilateral meetings.
It is pertinent that after the formation of the second United Progressive Alliance government, Dr Singh visited Russia in June to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Brazil-Russia-China-India Summit meetings in Yekaterinurg in the Russian Urals. As India is not a member of the SCO, India's participation there had been low key and New Delhi had been represented at such meetings at a ministerial level.
As an observer State in the SCO, India participated in the annual meeting of the heads of State and heads of government in Dushanbe and Astana in August and October 2008 respectively. Petroleum Minister Murli Deora represented India at the heads of State meeting and Power Minister Sushil Shinde led the Indian delegation at the heads of government meeting.
During the meeting of heads of State, the SCO decided to raise the cooperation with the organisation to a qualitatively new level. Subsequently, India had been invited to SCO ministerial meetings in the field of economy and transport.
This time around, however, as both the SCO and BRIC summit meetings were held at the same time in Yekaterinburg, after thoughtful deliberation, Dr Singh decided to participate in the summit meetings held under Russia's chairmanship.
It was a resounding gesture to Moscow which also reciprocated by facilitating Dr Singh's participation in the SCO summit meeting, not withstanding India's observer status.
Ever since Independence, Russia has always played a very important role in India's economic development and also in developing India's defence capability and space programme.
In the late 1950s, India and Russia signed agreements on the construction of major industrial facilities that became the fulcrum of India's economy and industry. Russia provided technical assistance in the construction of steel plants in Bhilai, Bokoro and Visakhapatnam, and the aluminum plant in Korba, a heavy duty electrical equipment plant in Hardwar, an engineering plant in Ranchi, a mining equipment plant in Durgapur, refineries in Varanasi, and Mathura and a series of hydro and thermal power plants.
In 1970, the two countries joined hands in space exploration. Aryabhatta, the first Indian satellite, was launched in 1975 from Russian spaceport and in 1984 Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian man in space on board a Soyuz T-II space craft.
The India-Russia relationship suffered a little bit after the disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union. However, it picked up steam after Vladimir Putin took over the reins of power in Moscow. In fact, he can be considered the magnet of India-Russia friendship and cooperation.
Putin's very first visit to India as President in October 2000 gave a new resonance to the bilateral relations between the two countries which witnessed the signing of the landmark declaration on a strategic partnership and set the stage for much closer defence ties between the two countries. Putin put the partnership with India on a rock solid base of what he described in 2000 as 'the concurrence of long term national geopolitical interest of Russia and India'.
It was during Putin's visit, as chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in 2007, that the memorandum of intent to add four units to the nuclear power plant under construction at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu was signed.
In a joint statement on cooperation in 'peaceful use of nuclear energy, both countries committed themselves to further developing international cooperation to promote the use of nuclear energy'. It was decided that both the counties would work together to expand civilian nuclear energy cooperation aimed at enabling India to realise its goal of promoting nuclear power and energy security in a self sustaining manner.
Subsequently, the signing of the civilian nuclear cooperation between India and Russia during President Medvedev's visit in December 2008 was the consummation of Moscow's sustained commitment to help India build its nuclear capacity for civilian nuclear use.
Moscow's commitment to enable India to produce nuclear energy can be gauged from the fact that when fuel levels at the Tarapur atomic power plant were dangerously low and India was trying very hard to find fuel after the July 18, 2005 nuclear agreement with the US, Russia decided to supply 60 tonnes of uranium to safeguard the Tarapur 1 and 2 nuclear reactors and continue providing nuclear power to India's western power grid.
The Russian decision was a welcome relief to India. Russia informed the Nuclear Suppliers Group that it intended to supply fuel immediately to Tarapur under its safety exception clause.
The NSG guidelines permit export of nuclear fuel to countries without UN approved safeguards on reactors only if they are needed to prevent or correct a radiological hazard to public health and safety which cannot reasonably be met by other means. The safety exception clause in the NSG guidelines was resorted to by Russia earlier in 2001 to supply fuel to Tarapur.
Besides civilian nuclear cooperation, yet another significant outcome of Medvedev's visit was the deal to buy 80 Mi17 V-5 helicopters for the Indian Air Force. BrahMos Aerospace is yet another outstanding example of trust, achievement and friendship between two nations. The joint venture was formed through an inter-governmental agreement signed between the two countries in 1998 which stipulated design, development, production of the BrahMos weapon system for India and Russia and also for export to friendly countries.
Within a span of seven years the company has designed, developed, produced and delivered a formidable weapon system, which is far superior in performance to existing cruise missiles.
India has also become the only country that will use Russia's global navigation satellite system.
Russia is the only country which has offered sensitive and advanced defence technology to India and helped at critical junctures. At a time when geopolitics is passing through a churning process, it is all the more appropriate that India must fine-tune the imperatives of its foreign policy postulates.
It is time India calibrated a policy of what the late prime minister Indira Gandhi used to call equi-proximity rather than equi-distance between the US and Russia. India must follow what the celebrated international studies expert Joseph Nye calls 'smart diplomacy' and pursue a policy of inclusive global engagement bilaterally and multilaterally.