Russian Consul Gen Alexey Novikov reveals India connection

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Russian Counsul General Alexey Novikov
On the occasion of the Russian National Day celebrations that was held on Jun 12 with much fanfare in Mumbai that was well-attended with the star guest being the Russian Counsul General Alexey Novikov who dwelled on his not-much-publicized India connection.

Talking on his Indian link and the Indo-Russian partnership in various fields, the Consul General spoke spiritedly on various issues.

Read the excerpts from his interview.

Mr. Novikov, this is your first year as the Consul General of Russia in Mumbai. What are your impressions about being here and working as the Consul General of your country?

As a student of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations I had opted for Hindi as my first language, and since that time I simply adore India and its people. I joyfully recollect my first appointment as an attache in Nepal after which I worked faraway from South Asia for a while. So, first of all, I am very happy to be “back to basics" meaning back to South Asia and to India. I am also glad to return to India with an appointment in Mumbai as it is a vibrant and promising business and financial center. I am proud to represent Russia in this city at this important time of our bilateral relations. Dmitri Medvedev, the President of Russia, who visited Mumbai on Dec 22, 2010 during his official visit to India said that relations between Russia and India are witnessing a new era of“privileged strategic partnership". I firmly believe that Mumbai plays an important role in promoting business ties between Russia and India.

The Mumbai consular district that embraces the Western part of India in general and Maharashtra in particular contributes a lot to developing the people-to-people diplomacy (“logon ki dosti") as well, with Russian language studied both in Mumbai and Pune.
My first year as the Consul General in Mumbai saw several milestone events. The most high-profile and determinant of them was the visit of Dmitri Medvedev, the President of Russia,to India and to Mumbai. In Mumbai the President addressed the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), set up with the direct assistance of the Soviet Union.President Medvedev responded to a large number of questions from IIT students and professors on a wide range of subjects. I think that the visit of Dmitri Medvedev to the Institute not only revived the temporarily interrupted cooperation between our scientists but also gave a strong impetus to our ties in the field of high technologies and nanotechnology.

Building up on the results of the President"s visit to the IIT, Anatoly Chubais, the head of the largest Russian state-owned corporation for high technologies “Rosnano"addressed the IIT students in February 2011 and conducted fruitful talks with its faculty and heads.
While in Mumbai, Dmitri Medvedev visited “Bollywood" where he met with leading figures in the world of culture and cinematography in India. As you may know, very recently, a TV serial“Hindu", a joint Russian-Indian production, was shown on Russian television and met with great success and soon, with the support of our President, shooting shall be completed of a full-length Russian-Indian blockbuster “Players". In short, Dmitri Medvedev"s stay in Mumbai, in our consular district, gave a powerful impulse, also, to the development of relations between Western India and Russia. I am proud that the President visit as a sign of our new level of partnership was successfully accomplished during my first year in office.

The 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin"s space flight was celebrated this year. India and Russia enjoy numerous space programs, what is your take on that?

Really, the year 2011 is marked by the 50th anniversary of sending the first man into space – a Soviet, a Russian man – Yuri Gagarin. This is a great celebration for all mankind! We have tried, in full measure, to ensure a high level of celebration of this major event, which is also important in terms of Russian-Indian relations. We closely collaborate with India in space. In the autumn of 1961 Yuri Gagarin visited India where he was personally accompanied by Jawaharlal Nehru. And it is especially gratifying to note that Yuri Gagarin also visited what was then called, Bombay, where he was honored triumphantly. Earlier this year we held a big festival, inaugurated an exhibition, dedicated to Yuri Gagarin and the fiftieth anniversary of the space era, in a museum at the Consulate General and the Russian Cultural Centre in Mumbai. Then an exhibition was opened at the Nehru Centre Planetarium, at the University of Mumbai and at other places. We conducted a series of exhibition tours for Indian schoolchildren and students, showed them films.  During the solemn function on April 13, a salutatory message from India"s first cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma, addressed to us, was read out.

And now Mumbai is hosting a dignified guest from Russia, Mr. Viktor Savinikh, the 50th Russia"s and the 100th world"s cosmonaut, who came to Mumbai to inaugurate the exhibition in the Nehru planetarium and address the IIT students. In the course of this merry celebration I reflect on one question: why in my consular district is their only one monument dedicated to Russia (the monument in therather remote village of Revdanda commemorating the Russian merchant, Afanasy Nikitin who, in the year 1469, discovered India for Europe)?. Unfortunately,there do not exist any other monuments connected with Russia on the territory of this consular district. And then, I saw television reports from London,saying that on the 50th anniversary of the space era, a monument to Yuri Gagarin was erected there. I ask myself: why can we not do this in Mumbai?  Are the English better friends to us than the Indians? Or is the famous expression “Hindi-Russi Bhai Bhai" no longer relevant? It is necessary to say that my proposal to commemorate the name of Yuri Gagarin in Mumbai was well supported by the Indian side – first, by the Director of the Mumbai Planetarium, Mr. Pandey and now, also, by the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai, during our recent meeting. Currently we are discussing, with Indian authorities,the matter of naming after Yuri Gagarin, one of the roads in the city, or a new flyover – on the Dadar T.T. – Byculla route (by erecting a commemorative sign). This would be perfect on the 50thanniversary of man"s first flight to space!

As for the joint space activities between Russia and India today, one cannot but admit that space is the key sector of cooperation between the two countries. Nearly three decades after Sharma"s historic flight in 1984 the Indian Space Research Organization is scheduling a human space flight in the year 2017 and a lunar mission known as Chandrayaan –II project. In November 2007 an agreement on joint lunar exploration was signed between India and Russia to cooperate in both Orbiter and Lander. The 2008 Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Activities in the field of Human Space flight program between India and Russia provides for an Indian astronaut first going on a space mission on a Russian spacecraft. Roskosmos will also assist ISRO in building a spacecraft for the Indian manned mission by 2015 and redesigning the Soyuz space capsule. If the mission is successful, India will become the forth nation in the world after Russia, the USA and China to send a manned mission into outer space.

This year the Consulate General of Russia in Mumbai celebrated its 110 years. Could you tell us something about the celebrations?

In November 2010 we widely celebrated the 110th anniversary of the Consulate General of Russia in Mumbai- the first Russian diplomatic mission in India. It became an occasion for the exchange of messages between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries. We prepared a spectacular cultural program and had a function at the Russian Center for Culture and Science to which our friends were invited. H.E. Mr. Alexander Kadakin, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to India, visited Mumbai on the occasion. He had several press conferences with the representatives of many Maharashtrian printed outlets. Many other friends of Russia and the Consulate showed up at the celebration and conveyed their warm wishes to us. To name but a few: Mr.Suheendra Kulkarni, President of the Observer research Foundation, Mr. Dilip Dandekar, President of the Indian Merchant Chamber, Mr. Vijay Kalantri,President of the All India Association of Industries, Dr. Laxmi S. Mikaelyan, Head of the Russian language Department of the Mumbai University, Professor Suniti Deshpande of the Russian language, Mr. Mukut Sah, President of the Indo-Russian Friendship Society. If I continue on the list it will take me a long time. We have many friends in Mumbai, we feel their support for which we are grateful and we are looking forward to meeting them all once again at the state reception on our national holiday, the Day of Russia that we will be celebrating on June 12 and 13.

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