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Cold Hearth, New Fire
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee ended the Moscow leg of his tour securing crucial support for India's stand on Afghanistan and Kashmir, besides opening new vistas for strategic cooperation with Russia in the energy sector. The Moscow Declaration on terrorism also indicated how close the two sides have moved on a problem that plagues both Russia and India. Vajpayee also pushed aggressively for a greater Indian say in Afghanistan, post-Taliban.
Both sides saw the November summit as an important part of their individual image-building efforts. While Russia wanted India to stop thinking about it as a non-market economy, India attempted to get rid of the traditional image of being the land of "tea and elephants", a perception still dominant here. Interestingly, a poll conducted ahead of the Vajpayee visit by the Moscow-based Obschestvennoye Mnenie (Public Opinion), a non-government foundation, showed that few understand India's real standing in the world. More than 80 per cent of 1,500 people polled called India a "friendly country," but 25 per cent of respondents said they think of Raj Kapoor and Indian films at the mention of India.
In a clear signal to other members of the global coalition against terrorism, Moscow and Delhi declared that they would not compromise on the issue, even if the coalition's unity is jeopardised. Speaking later, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any double standards could split the coalition. "There can't be good and bad terrorists, our terrorists and others'. All those who have resorted to arms, all those organisations who carry out these policies should not be tolerated," Putin said.
Putin also insisted that the UN role "should be enhanced and we must work jointly, including in the legal sphere, on the definition of terrorism. The efforts of the international community must be concerted in a way that would not leave even the narrowest loophole for terrorists." Vajpayee, on his part, declared that "the international community shouldn't tolerate states which assist or harbour terrorists and use terrorism as an instrument of their state policy".
Referring to India's role in South and Central Asia, Putin said as a regional player, India's standpoint was important. However, he said Vajpayee had agreed to the principle of discussing Afghanistan's future within the UN-organised "six plus two" group —which includes only Russia, the US and Afghanistan's neighbours. "But at the same time, India's voice must be heard when solving the Afghanistan problem," he added.
On Kashmir, Putin stood by the dialogue process with Pakistan, arguing that the two countries should talk to reduce tension in the region. Moscow's support to more Indo-Pak talks, precisely what President Pervez Musharraf wanted, couldn't have made the Indian contingent too happy.
Significantly, a memorandum on the implementation of the Koodankulam N-power station was signed by the Russian ministry of atomic energy and the atomic energy department of India. Incidentally, Russia is the only country to have assisted India's nuclear programme even when others were insisting on international safeguards.
Summing up the summit, Sergei Solodiovnik of the Institute of International Relations here told Outlook: "Russia and India, allies during the Cold War, had passed through a period of cool relations after the Soviet Union's demise. But since Putin's arrival, Russia has rejuvenated ties with what was traditionally a key political, military and trade partner. " It's as though Moscow and New Delhi have rediscovered each other.