Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is on a visit to India to set the tone for five planned meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in 2020, including at the 20th edition of the bilateral annual summit. In an exclusive interview to ET, he said India and Russia are vigorously working to conclude an agreement on mutual protection of investments from unilateral sanctions by the United States.
What areas of cooperation will be in the focus of your visit to India and will determine the strategic partnership between the two states in 2020? What do you think about the Indian-Russian cooperation in general?
This is a special year for our countries. Twenty years ago, India and Russia signed the Declaration on Strategic Partnership.
Developing relations with New Delhi is among our absolute foreign policy priorities. I am pleased to state that the Indian-Russian relations are characterized by self-sufficiency, not being subject to the influence of "ever-changing foreign policy winds". And this is vividly evidenced by regular leaders’ meetings and increasing contacts at all levels. Further strengthening of our multi-faceted cooperation is in the fundamental interests of our peoples and in line with the task of enhancing international and regional security and stability. I am convinced that our Indian friends share similar logic.
During the visit, we plan to discuss with our colleagues topical issues on the bilateral agenda, primarily taking into account the results of the Indian-Russian summit that was held on September 4-5 last year in Vladivostok. The discussions will be mainly focused on the prospects of increasing trade and economic cooperation which is the foundation for expanding the entire system of the Indian-Russian partnership. Certainly, we are interested in a constructive exchange of views on the key issues of our time.
I also plan to take part in the Raisina Dialogue annual international political conference.
How can India and Russia protect their interests in trade and investment, including in the defense sector, from unilateral sanctions?
Against the background of the increasingly aggressive use of financial sanctions by the U.S. Administration, Russia continues its policy aimed at gradual de-dollarization of the economy. Together with our main partners, including India, we work on developing economic and legal mechanisms to reduce the negative impact of restrictions on bilateral trade and investment ties.
Expanding settlements in national currencies is one of our priorities. Relevant intergovernmental agreements on settlements and payments were concluded with China and Turkey last June and October. Within BRICS, agreements were reached on the mutual opening by the Central Banks of relevant correspondent accounts. We consider that de-pegging from the dollar in mutual settlements is an objective response to the unpredictability of the U.S. economic policy and the outright abuse by Washington of the dollar's status as a world reserve currency.
Currently, New Delhi and Moscow are vigorously working to prepare a new intergovernmental agreement on the mutual protection of investments, which will by far increase investor protection for both sides. The agreement on a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and India which is currently being negotiated should also contribute to this.
India is interested in foreign investments, including from Russia, for implementing the Make in India programme. What could attract Russian entrepreneurs? How could both sides realize the unfulfilled potential of the economic partnership?
Full investment cooperation is essential to the development of the whole complex of bilateral relations. This topic has traditionally been one of the central issues on the agenda of the Indian-Russian negotiations, including at the highest level. A broad range of coordination mechanisms is at our disposal, allowing for customization of the individual parameters of our interaction taking into account the traditionally close cooperation between our countries and good prospects for its development. Paying heed to the wishes of the business community, we seek to create the most favourable environment enabling Russian businesses to enter the Indian market. We are confident that our Indian partners intend to do the same.
We maintain fruitful cooperation in strategic areas. Russian companies are ready to actively join in the Make in India programme. They certainly have a stake in the harmonization and optimization of the import and export procedures, as well as facilitation and standardization of technical, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements. Yet, India's asymmetrical tax treatment of foreign business as compared to the regime enjoyed by Indian entrepreneurs in Russia remains the sticking point. Consultations on the removal of trade barriers are underway to make our domestic markets more attractive for mutual investments.
Today, such tasks as qualitatively improving the bilateral trade pattern and shifting its focus from commodities to high value-added products are taking priority. We need to move forward, build a portfolio of joint projects, forging new technological alliances in advanced, knowledge-intensive industries.
What new areas of the Indian-Russian bilateral as well as multilateral cooperation involving third countries could be developed in the energy sector?
India is the third largest energy consumer in the world, while Russia is one of the world's key producers of hydrocarbons. Thus, the strategic interests of our countries in this area coincide.
We are establishing cooperation in geological exploration, joint development of oil and gas fields in the territory of the two countries, including offshore projects, which will eventually allow India to become the first non-Arctic state extracting resources in the Arctic. Specifically, Indian companies participate in the development of oil and gas fields under the Sakhalin-1 project, as well as the Vankor oil and gas condensate field. The Rosneft oil company, in its turn, is a shareholder in one of the region's largest refineries, Vadinar.
We are looking into ways of improving the energy supply routes from Russia to Indian partners. Relevant agencies are studying the prospects for expanding cooperation in hydro- and heat power industry, energy efficiency, as well as in the design and construction of facilities that generate energy from renewable sources.
The Kudankulam nuclear power plant is the flagship project of our peaceful atom cooperation. We are working to develop energy cooperation in a trilateral format, following the example of the Ruppur nuclear power plant project in Bangladesh.