Indian media tantalizes Russia over its NSG membership
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M. K. Bhadrakumar |

An exclusive story in today’s Times of India claims that India has made Russian projects to construct more nuclear power plants in India conditional on Moscow persuading Beijing to give up its opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India argues that sans NSG membership it will be constrained to settle for an indigenous nuclear energy program. Working backwards, the logic goes, China must lift its block on India’s NSG membership and Moscow must prevail upon Beijing to fall in line or else India will freeze tens of billions of dollars’ worth lucrative nuclear commerce for Russia’s nuclear vendor in the Indian market.

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The best spin one can give is that India is finding an alibi to roll back its nuclear power programme altogether.

This tantalizing story has been deliberately leaked to the media just 2 weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia. The Indian establishment appears to be signaling displeasure over Moscow’s reluctance to get involved in the India-China muddle. Extraneous factors might also have crept in such as our disquiet over the visible deepening of the Sino-Russian alliance and Moscow’s growing friendship with Pakistan.

The best spin one can give is that India is finding an alibi to roll back its nuclear power program altogether. Conceivably, now that the Westinghouse has gone bankrupt, the Indian elites may have become disillusioned and lost interest in nuclear power. Equally, influential sections of Indian corporate industry may be seeking an energy policy that gives more weightage to fossil fuel, especially America’s shale gas and oil. The Hindu newspaper reported that Prime Minister Modi has plans to repeat his Madison Square Garden stage performance in New York (September 2014) sometime next month in Houston with a view to entice Big Oil and catch Donald Trump’s attention. The prognosis is that Texas is back as King of the oil world.

Read more: Indian fears: Is Russia joining Pakistan China in CPEC?

Where is India-Russia relationship headed?

It is incomprehensible why the NSG membership is so terribly important for India, and, secondly, why we should drag the cooperation with Russian into the impasse.

However, the real issue here is that India-Russia relations seem to be heading for a stressful period. There is sophistry in the Indian argument linking the setting up of Russian nuclear power plants with India’s NSG membership. It is incomprehensible why the NSG membership is so terribly important for India, and, secondly, why we should drag the cooperation with Russian into the impasse. Since this NSG membership bit was first put into our mind by our American friends, why don’t we seek the help of President Trump to persuade China?

The loss of business in the Indian market may not deal a mortal blow to Rosatom, but the fact remains that the overseas projects bring in big revenue for the Russian nuclear industry. Rosatom’s foreign portfolio of orders totaled $133 billion at the end of 2016, and export revenues in 2015 were $6.4 billion, up 20% from 2014. Rosatom’s goal is to gain 60% of its total revenue from exported goods and services by 2030, and half its reactor revenue from overseas projects in 2017. Early in 2016, Rosatom said that Russia’s GDP gained two rubles for every one ruble invested in building nuclear power plants abroad, as well as enhanced trade.

Rosatom’s goal is to gain 60% of its total revenue from exported goods and services by 2030, and half its reactor revenue from overseas projects in 2017.

Contrary to the impression created in the Times of India report, India is not really Rosatom’s principal market. India has 2 of the seven operating Russian nuclear power plants worldwide, but none among the five Russian plants under construction at the moment. Two among the 14 contracted Russian power plants are in India (Kudankulam 3 & 4), and 2 among the 15 ordered (Kudankulam 5 & 6). But none among the 22 under negotiation is proposed to be in India. (World Nuclear Association) Nevertheless, energy cooperation is a major vector of India-Russia ties without which the overall relationship will look emaciated.

Read more: India launches 104 satellites simultaneously surpassing Russia

To my mind, it is bad diplomacy to predicate India’s relations with a friendly country to its equations with a third country with which India has a troubled relationship. The curious part is that India’s “muscular diplomacy” is selective. Will the Indian establishment apply similar logic to the US-Pakistan relations? Will India rein in its defense and security cooperation with the US unless the latter pressures Pakistan to fall in line with India’s expectations on the issue of terrorism? Of course not. Our genes tell us that we must always surrender to a superior force.

The yardstick in the present case should be whether Kudankulam 5 & 6 are possible to be implemented even if India continues to be outside the NSG. Russia apparently thinks it is possible. That being the case, the Indian alibi to freeze Kudankulam 5 & 6 does not make sense except as a sign of displeasure toward Russia’s foreign policies. It is an act of petulance.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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