Has India Snubbed Russia?

Has India Snubbed Russia?

New Delhi feels Moscow has mettle to clear Beijing blockade from Indian road to NSG

By Chandan Kumar

Last fortnight, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi to push India for signing the MoU on the Kudankulam nuclear power plants. The MoU was to have signed at the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) summit in Goa 6 months ago. It did not happen. Halfway into 2017, India continues to hold back despite issues like pricing and technology being no longer issues. Kudankulam village in Tirunelveli in southern Tamil Nadu is where eight nuclear power stations are located. These are a joint Russia-India project, and India would invest $3 billion, most of which would go to Russia. That agreement was signed in 2001, despite villagers’ resistance.

That time in 200, one of the tacit understandings was that Russia would help India to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which would make India’s pariah status as a nuclear power legitimate. It would also enable India to access nuclear materials and technology and legalize the conversion of civil nuclear power to defense purposes. The NSG Group is authorized to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Therefore gaining membership in the group is important for India in keeping with its status as a rising power.

Amidst rift widening between India and China on the one hand, and increasing cooperation between Russia and China on the other, India is not well positioned to jockey for membership. Russia’s on future relies to a substantial amount on its relationship with China. Russia therefore is not as active in supporting India’s membership into the NSG.

Though, the minutes of this meeting of Russian Deputy PM with the India PM has not been revealed, sources into the PMO and the External Affairs Ministry (EAM) revealed that New Delhi has clearly told Moscow that until and unless India becomes member of the NSG, it won’t sign the MoU on the Kudankulam nuclear power plants. Since, Russia had assured India to clear the Beijing blockade which New Delhi has been facing in its bid to become a permanent member of the NSG, its Moscow’s job to make things in line. India has even given a time frame of not more than two years for this; otherwise India would drop Russia from this project — indicating an indigenously developed and designed Kudankulam nuclear power plants.

In fact, India made it clear that it will stall cooperation with Russia and nuclear materials supplying countries if their backing is not forthcoming. It’s in this context that nuclear plants 5 and 6 are now in an indeterminate status. India has asked Russia to raise the NSG with Beijing asking, “While Switzerland and Mexico have joined the US in supporting India’s bid to become an NSG member, China is still fighting it tooth and nail. What is China afraid of?

Narendra Modi’s team has made it clear to Russia that India expects President Vladimir Putin to work on China.  The NSG is not as exclusive as it used to be. The 48-member club includes besides the big powers Denmark, Turkey and Slovakia. Hence, this surprising move from New Delhi ahs put Moscow in a fix because Modi- Rogozin meeting was meant to prepare ground for Modi’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in early June, i.e. next month. Moscow is now worried that without the MoU, there will be no real take-away from the summit which is barely two weeks away.

Moscow is also worried that the reluctance to ink the MoU on the Kudankulam nuclear power plants, comes on the back of a warning from Indian authorities that the government could stop all foreign collaboration in its nuclear energy program and instead focus on manufacturing reactors locally. Seeking to give a fresh impetus to India’s domestic nuclear power production, the Union cabinet today cleared a proposal to indigenously build 10 atomic reactors, the largest ever approval granted for such facilities in one go. Once completed, the 10 reactors of 700 MW each will give much needed fillip to the domestic nuclear industry.

India currently has installed nuclear power capacity of 6,780 MW from 22 operational plants. Another 6,700 MW of nuclear power is expected to be added by 2021-22 when currently under-construction projects go on-stream in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

The Modi government has been showing surprising toughness in its foreign policies. Last month it went against China’s explicit wishes and allowed the Dali Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh, which according to China is a disputed territory; China also considers the Dalia Lama as an insurgent, fighting for Tibet’s freedom.

Now with Rogozin, the Indian government’s new firmness is fully in evidence. India’s position is that without NSG membership in the next 1-2 years, India would have no option but to go for an indigenous nuclear energy program. India wants to shift majorly from fossil fuels to nuclear power.  The government recently stated in Parliament that it expects to raise nuclear power generation capacity to 15,000 MW by 2024 from the 4780 MW that it was in 2014. The India government has been particularly hard on Russia because it believes Russia is the only big power which can leverage Beijing to soften its position on India’s entry.

The nuclear energy cooperation between the two countries is one of the cornerstones of the relationship between the two countries. It remains to be seen if Modi will return with positive Russian commitment to prevail on China.