India has warned Russia that it will stall cooperation with its foreign partners for development of its civil nuclear programme if it is unable to become a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in the near future. To make its point, it is threatening to put in cold storage an MoU with Russia for developing Kudankulam 5 and 6 reactor units.
With Russia working increasingly in tandem with China on global issues, India has often looked at Moscow to persuade Beijing to let go of its opposition to India’s membership. Russia is now worried that India might be delaying the MoU to get Moscow to work more proactively for its NSG membership.
Taken aback by this Indian reluctance to seal the MoU, a top official source confirmed to TOI, Russia’s deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin took up the issue with PM Narendra Modi in their meeting last week. Rogozin, however, left the country without any clear assurance from India on signing the MoU.
The meeting was held to prepare the groundwork for Modi’s summit with President Vladimir Putin early next month. Moscow is now worried that without the MoU, there will be no real takeaway from the summit which is barely two weeks away. Russia remains India’s oldest and most reliable partner in the development of its nuclear energy programme.
India’s message to Russia, conveyed to Moscow through official channels around the time the last NSG meeting was held, is said to have been quite explicit in nature. It stated that without NSG membership in the next 1-2 years, India would have no option but to go for an indigenous nuclear energy programme. TOI was unable to ascertain if a similar ‘threat’ was made to the US and France, two other important partners in nuclear energy, but it’s clear that the government sees Russia as the only big power which has enough influence with Beijing to soften its position on the issue of India’s NSG membership.
TOI has learnt that despite repeated exhortations for over 6 months, Russia has been unable to convince India to sign the MoU which was originally meant to have been signed on the sidelines of the Brics summit in Goa last year. It was then said that it would be signed by the end of 2016 but halfway into 2017, India continues to hold back on it despite issues like pricing and technology having been long settled.
Moscow is concerned that India is not responding to its request for signing the MoU even weeks ahead of the Modi-Putin summit. It sees nuclear energy cooperation as one of the most significant elements of its bilateral relationship with India.
India has at several levels in the past asked Russia to persuade Beijing which continues to back a criteria-based, and not a merit-based approach as desired by India, for expansion of the global body which controls nuclear commerce.
While Russia has worked hard to secure support for India’s membership, New Delhi clearly believes that it hasn’t done enough to convince China which sees Moscow as a key partner in dealing with the emerging international situation. However, the Russians seem to believe that India has only further complicated its case by inviting Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh and that this will only see China further hardening its position.
Russia’s interests now converge sharply with China’s as evident also from the way it has endorsed Beijing’ OBOR . Putin himself attended this week the OBOR conference which India chose to ignore. Russia, like several Indian neighbours, maintains that its endorsement of OBOR has nothing to do with the contentious CPEC which raises sovereignty issues for India . Moscow’s strategic embrace of Pakistan made manifest in its first joint military exercise with the latter last year has also spooked India.
That India might shun foreign collaboration in nuclear energy is also interesting. The government only recently reiterated 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.