Mr. Medvedev’s Trip to Bollywood

medved122210.jpgDmitry Medvedev has had an action-packed trip to Mumbai.  Accompanied by a delegation of some 100 state businessmen, the Russian president arrived in Delhi to announce his high regard for their “privileged” partnership, and urged that the two countries work hard to keep it that way.

Keeping with standard practices, the trip featured an orgy of conventions, agreements, and pacts, including the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which aims to raise bilateral trade to the $20 billion by 2015.

Energy is always a top interest for the Indians, and from generation to exploration to trade, the Russians are an important partner. Though it currently produces only 4.7 gigawatts of nuclear power, India has plans to grow to 60 gigawatts by 2035 with Russia’s help. To reach this goal, an agreement to construct two generating units at Kudankulam; a power plant in India where Russia already has two reactors. The state-owned Oil India asked for Gazprom’s help to develop two natural gas fields, while ONGC began seriously flirting with Sistema to get some equity shares of Russian oil assets.

Keeping true to the spirit of its historically strong relations with the Soviet Union, the biggest deals on the trip related to defense. According to one figure cited by the Moscow Times, India will account for an astounding 54% of Russian arms exports from 2010 through 2013, estimated at more than $15 billion. “India is a very attractive bride, and everyone is trying to date her,” said one defense analyst to the MT.

A joint contract for the development of a highly anticipated fifth-generation aircraft for the Indian Air Force was also signed by both Russia and India. The $30 billion contract, which includes Russia’s promise of military navigation and technology to India, is said to be the “biggest defense program ever in the history of India.” There was also discussion of a deal to sell missiles, and cooperation over the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft and the Glonass satellite navigation system.

Most meetings between BRIC nations are often seen by skeptics as empty of substance, such as the summit organized last April in Brazil, which amounted to little more than a photo shoot. But unlike the bitter suspicions between China and India, or the near total decoupling between Brazil and Russia, the meeting between Medvedev and Singh has much more serious business at stake than a typical bilateral summit. The $20 billion trade agreement, creation of new nuclear energy sources and $30 billion defense agreement shows that the two countries are investing in the partnership beyond the rhetoric.

Some observers see Delhi’s embrace of Moscow as bait for more attention from the Americans. “India is playing carefully to build the strongest range of strategic friendships that it can, and I think the Medvedev visit confirms that India has not completely drifted out of Russia’s orbit, that the United States-India partnership, in particular, is not going to supplant the Russians,” said Rory Medcalf, programme director for international security at the Lowy Institute.

He continued, “The Indians want to play other powers against each other, whether in arms sales or other forms of alignment,” while these defense ties to Russia “puts India on track to be the third-largest military in the world, behind the US and China.”

All in all, it seems that Russia, in search of Indian capital, is working hard to get the relationship with India back to its Cold War closeness. Never one to lack in terms of symbolic gestures, today President Medvedev is taking a break from the multi-billion dollar deal signing to visit a Bollywood studio, where the two governments are considering funding a re-make of some much-loved Raj Kapoor films from the 1950s, which starred both Indian and Russian performers. Curious what that might look like? See below.