India signalled greater involvement in Russia’s plans to develop its vast and resource rich Arctic region when Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Moscow earlier this week.
Of significance was Gokhale’s third major meeting in Moscow. After discussing foreign policy’s significant bread and butter issues with Igor Murgolov and Sergei Ryabkov in the Russian Foreign Office, Gokhale met Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who has been tasked by Russian President Vladimir Putin to oversee the economic overhauling of the Far East.
Trutnev will head an international conference on the Arctic at which India will be a significant presence. The Indian interest is being pushed at the conference at Putin’s urging by his aide Igor Levitin, who has been tasked with operationalizing a Russian version of the One Belt and One Road (OBOR).
But unlike the Chinese OBOR, this seeks to involve other countries, with Indian poised to play a major part in both the southern and northern sections. India is an equal participant in the International North South Transport Corridor (NSTC), which runs for 7,200 km from India to Iran, Armenia, Russia and a dozen other countries.
Over time, India’s mini version of One Belt and One Road that begins from Chabahar Port in Iran to Afghanistan may get merged with NSTC, which is also broadly referred to as Ashgabat Agreement.
The other emerging area is an all-weather route through the Arctic, which is a Herculean proposal. Invitees to the Russian conference on Arctic will get a taste of the sub-human conditions when they will be taken aboard a nuclear icebreaker in real navigation conditions in the Kara Sea’s Oka Bay.
India had won observer status at the global Arctic Council amidst a scramble for resources in the Arctic region, a significant portion of which, laden with oil and gas, falls in Russia’s zone of influence.
Russia’s priority is to develop the Arkhangelsk part to add to the construction of a mega LNG marine transshipment complex in Kamchatka and an ore zone in Chukotka. Putin aide and former Transport Minister Levitin has in the past spoken about the importance of inviting India to discuss issues concerning development of trade and economic relations on an international scale as a part of the North-South International Transport Corridor.