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Putin visit could bring sparkle back to India-Russia ties

Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi at a bilateral meeting with the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the Sixth BRICS Summit, in Fortaleza, Brazil
Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi at a bilateral meeting with the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the Sixth BRICS Summit, in Fortaleza, Brazil

New Delhi, Dec 4 India-Russia ties are set to get the sparkle of diamonds during the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin next week during which both sides would also seek to draw up a long-term vision of their key strategic ties.

Putin will also address a joint session of the Indian parliament.

The Russian president will be meeting Modi on Dec 11 for the 15th India-Russia Annual Summit. Though the exact schedule of his visit has not yet been firmed up, Putin is expected to arrive on Dec 10 evening, or land early on Dec 11 itself, it is understood.

Though both Modi and Putin have met earlier at international gatherings, no structured bilateral talks have been held so far. Both leaders have also not had any informal talks that would help both to strike a personal rapport, like that between Modi and US President Barack Obama, or with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Modi appears to have struck a personal chord with Obama and especially so with Abbott, which was visible during his Australia visit.

Modi met with Putin in July during the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – summit in Fortaleza, Brazil and later during the informal BRICS meeting in Brisbane, Australia, on the sidelines of the G20 last month. During the Brisbane gathering, the meeting between Modi and Putin was brief.

The Delhi summit talks is expected to provide both leaders an opportunity to know each other’s mind and points of view. India has moved away from Russia in recent years, a far cry from the special relationship that the two countries enjoyed during the Soviet era.
Putin had, however, struck a special rapport with former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who attended 10 of the annual bilateral summit meetings.

India and Russia are expected to ink a vision document giving a fillip to their long-term relationship, especially under the government of Narendra Modi, which came to power six months ago.

The visit comes as the Russian economy has taken a beating due to Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and its currency, the rouble, suffering the biggest fall since 1998 due to the dip in global oil prices. Russia is a major oil exporter.

Alrosa, a leading Russian diamond miner, is also looking to working closely with the Indian cutting and polishing industry. The Indian diamond industry buys roughs, produced mostly in Russia, from Dubai and Belgium. India has a major cutting and polishing industry with cities like Surat and Jaipur being major centres.

State-owned Alrosa accounts for around 25 percent of the world output of roughs, while the Indian diamond processing industry accounts for some 60 percent by value of global polished diamond output. An estimated 14 out of 15 polished diamonds studded in jewellery globally are cut and polished in India.

In 2013, Alrosa produced 36.9 million carats of rough. India imported 163.11 million carats of roughs worth $16.34 billion, and exported 36.46 million carats of polished diamonds worth $20.23 billion in 2013. But, direct import of rough diamonds from Russia to India stands at a modest $767 million, a little less than five percent of India’s total import of roughs.

Both sides are of the view that direct supplies of rough diamonds could boost bilateral trade in roughs to $5 billion. Russia is the largest diamond-producing nation in the world, estimated to have produced a little over 33 million carats in 2013, with Alrosa accounting for approximately 97 percent.

In April this year, India’s Gem Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and Alrosa signed a memorandum of understanding to share diamond trade data. The GJEPC has suggested the Indian government set up a special trading zone at the Bharat Diamond Bourse in Mumbai, and replicate the same in Surat at a later stage, said reports.