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India steps up diplomacy to buy oil from the Russian Far East

Russia, which stretches over 53 per cent of the Arctic Ocean coastline, essentially controls the Northern Sea Route (Image courtesy: Rosatom)

India and Russia continue to expand their partnership in the Arctic, deepening cooperation in high latitudes, both in bilateral and multilateral formats.  

An Indian delegation, led by Sanjay Verma, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, held wide-ranging discussions on Arctic issues with Nikolay Korchunov, Russia's Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Cooperation in Moscow, last week.

The consultations were also attended by representatives of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East, Rosatom State Corporation, the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, as well as the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation.

Both sides noted great potential in developing cooperation in the fields of economy, transport, science and culture, including contacts between regions and public organizations.

India has also been invited to take part in the Arctic segment of the VII Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok (September 5-8) which will include a presentation of the investment potential of Russian regions.

Russia, which stretches over 53 per cent of the Arctic Ocean coastline, currently holds the chairmanship (2021-2023) of the Arctic Council and essentially controls the Northern Sea Route which is projected to become the Russian route to India in the coming decades.

India has a significant stake in the Arctic. It is one of 13 nations holding Observer status in the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic.

Much before the current crisis in Ukraine, India was playing an active role in a trilateral cooperation initiative with Russia and Japan in the Russian Far East.

The 20th India-Russia Bilateral Summit and the 5th Eastern Economic Summit held in Vladivostok back in September 2019 acted as a game-changer as far as focus on the region is concerned.

The summit, where PM Narendra Modi was the guest of honour, paved the way for India's larger cooperation in the fields of not only oil and gas sectors but also road transport, defence, trade and investments in the region.

Insisting that Russian President Vladimir Putin's affinity to the Far East has brought unprecedented opportunities not only for the region but also for its partners like India, PM Modi had listed significant Indian investments with the Sakhalin's oil fields being a classic example.  

Announcing India's $ 1 billion line of credit to further contribute to the development of the Russian Far East, PM Modi emphasised that together, India and Russia will cross the distances of space and also bring out prosperity from the depths of the sea.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have also "noted the new opportunities" in the Russian Far East during the several meetings they have held over the past couple of years.

The International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chennai-Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor have been discussed as extensively as the rapidly expanding energy cooperation between the two countries.

As it continues to explore more opportunities for cooperation in the Arctic region, India has moved forward to join an elite group of countries working on various aspects of the Arctic.

While addressing a roundtable of the Arctic Sessions project ‘The Arctic Council: Scenarios for the Future of the International Platform' last month – which was also attended by Korchunov and Putin's Advisor Anton Kobyakov – K M Seethi, the scientific director of the International Centre for Polar Studies at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, said that New Delhi views itself as the so-called ‘third pole’ of the globe, so participation in Arctic affairs is a matter of geopolitical importance for India.

PM Modi

India's Arctic policy titled 'India and the Arctic: building a partnership for sustainable development’ lays down six pillars: strengthening India's scientific research and cooperation, climate and environmental protection, economic and human development, transportation and connectivity, governance and international cooperation, and national capacity building in the Arctic region.

While releasing the policy in March this year, Earth Sciences Minister Jitendra Singh had highlighted that India’s engagement with the Arctic dates back to a century when ‘Svalbard Treaty’ was signed in February 1920 in Paris.

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