Science & Technology has been the epitome of the bilateral India-Russia (and India-Soviet) partnership, apart from political and military partnerships. Roots of the collaborative programme are deep and it has penetrated in many scientific groups in universities or academic institutes, industries, scientific/ basic science laboratories. The joint endeavours have led to generation of knowledge, products, and facilities through hundreds of joint projects. Both countries have been making concerted efforts to strengthen, expand and deepen cooperation in this important sector of bilateral relations. Formulation and implementation of fundamental scientific ideas in order to create new technologies, new types of equipment and materials required of the economic development of both countries has been the main focus of the programme, both in strategic as well as civil science sectors.
Right since Soviet days, when Soviet laboratories were not open to many countries, except COMECON countries, scientists from India and China were having access to these scientific and production institutes in Soviet Union. This, in turn, led to establishment of several technical institutes, both companies and academic institutes in India. It included establishment of Bhilai Steel Plant, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (popularly known as IIT Bombay), International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARC-I), Hyderabad etc. besides several critical support to India in strategic sectors including nuclear, outer space and defence research. After the initial chaos, following breakdown of Soviet Union and emergence of Russia as a sovereign nation, India-Russia bilateral scientific cooperation soon picked up and are currently in full swing, both in civilian and strategic sectors, in basic and applied sciences, encouraging not only knowledge generation, but also encouraging entrepreneurship, innovation, and supporting techno-commercial research. This article restricts itself to scientific cooperation in non-strategic sectors.
Presently, both countries have adopted multi-stakeholder bases and scientific cooperation is facilitated through many agencies. While from the Indian side, Department of Science & Technology (DST), Ministry of Earth Sciences (MOES), Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Electronics & Information Technologies (MEITY), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Indian National Science Academy (INSA) are the primary agencies in civilian science & technology cooperation. On the Russian side, Ministry of Science and Higher Education (MSHE), Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), Russian Science Foundation (RSF), Skolkovo Foundation (SF), Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Russian Federal Foundation for Small Innovative Enterprises (FASIE) and Russian Ministry of Economy Development (MED) are involved in making this partnership stronger. The India Russia Science and Technology programs are currently steered through India Russia Working Group on Science & Technology which reports to the India Russia Inter Governmental Commission (IRIGC-TEC).
In addition to bilateral cooperation, both countries are supporting each other actively in several multilateral platforms, including BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), G-20, etc. where multi-lateral cooperation based on collective and mutual interest is supported.
Basic Science Cooperation
Both countries have been supporting joint R&D in Basic Sciences. Around 150 joint projects are presently under implementation in Mathematics & Computations, Physics & Astrophysics, Chemistry, Earth Science, Biological & Medical Sciences, Engineering Sciences and Information & Communication Technologies. These cooperation has resulted in knowledge generation as well as development of institutes of excellence in identified thematic areas.
Collaboration between Indian and Russian scientists on development of India’s first indigenous oral polio vaccine, which has benefited millions of people is an excellent example of joint cooperation. Support and training from Russia has been a key factor in the success of the vaccine production facility of Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Ltd at Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh. This resulted in the development of oral polio vaccine by several companies. This eventually led to launch of Pulse Polio program and thankfully India is now, one of polio free countries.
Joint collaboration in Materials science has led to establishment of International Advanced Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) set up at Hyderabad. This was the first Centre of Excellence established through the Indo-Russian cooperation 25 years ago. ARCI has grown from strength to strength and is now recognized as a premiere institute for development and transfer of materials related technologies. There are enormous examples of such collaborating efforts like development of streak cameras; high power lasers and their application, growth of BGO crystals with unprecedented perfection. Many programmes pertaining to photo-chemistry, laser spectroscopy and cluster dynamics etc. have been successfully completed under the Indo-Russian joint collaboration. Other completed projects include medical applications of lasers, such as, treatment of drug-resistant TB using phototherapy based on UV light, bio-stimulation and tissue modification, use of laser-based fluorescence technique for cancer diagnostic applications etc.
High Performance Computing was one of the major thrust areas for collaboration. A significant project under its purview pertains to the collaboration between the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and the Institute for Computer Aided Design (ICAD) of the Russian Academy of Science in the area of High Performance Computing (HPC).
Remotely Operated Unmanned Submersible (ROSUB) was also jointly developed by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai and Experimental Design Bureau of Oceanological Engineering (EDBOE), Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Moscow. Joint development of the unmanned submersible for deep sea operation required joint studies in the areas of Computational Fluid Dynamics, Modelling Monsoon Circulation, Transition and Turbulence Control; and Fatigue & Fracture Mechanics. Joint studies were also undertaken by Indian and Russian team in Lake Baikal for exploration of gas hydrates. With joint efforts during winter expedition in Lake Baikal gas hydrates from three cores were recovered in Malenki mud volcanic region.
Thus, there is tremendous potential for joint collaboration in frontier areas of Ocean Science & Technology such as Design and development of Manned Scientific Submersible; Gas Hydrate Exploration & energy Harvesting; machines and technologies for Deep Sea Mining etc. related to Blue Economy.
In the emerging technologies domains, both sides in 2020 and 2021, with the help of Russian Academy of Science (RAS), Russia India Network of Universities (RIN) and DST/CSIR/IIT/IISER institutes have conducted a series of scientific webinars in Data Analytics, AI, Nano-technology, New Materials, Advanced Manufacturing, Quantum Technologies, Interdisciplinary Cyber Physical Systems, Marine Bio-diversity & Blue economy, Waste to Wealth technologies and Disaster Management Technologies etc. Experts from both sides note that the input cost to R&D is low in India and Russia compared to the rest of advanced countries, therefore, India-Russia collective effort can jointly capture the emerging market with cost effective Science Technology and Innovation interventions.
Similarly, Polar Science could be another area of interest for joint collaboration where scientific research in Arctic/Antarctica is significant. Every year Russian scientists do visit Indian polar stations and similarly Indian scientists also visit Russian stations in Antarctica. Russian Ice breaker vessel helped Indian charted vessel in Antarctica and India provided logistical help in providing Pistenbulley services to Russia for carrying containers from shelf to Russian station (near Maitri). Recently, India hosted International Conference on Antarctic Research (ICAR) in Bharati, Antarctica, wherein Russian scientists from Progress Station participated. Also, scientists of both National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Goa and Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) St. Petersburg engage periodically and discuss possible collaborations between the two countries.
The Astrophysics area has also played an important role in bilateral collaboration in basic science because it was considered important and essential for the growth and development of technology and hence for the benefit of society. The projects undertaken covered a wide range of areas from Gamma Ray to Radio astronomy on the observational side to high-energy physics and Cosmology on the theoretical side. This has further widened cooperation as the projects in the areas of ground based optical and space based astronomy are the latest one.
A preliminary design of Light Transport Aircraft Project (LTA) SARAS-DUET is also a major outcome of joint collaboration.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) are also supporting joint research in specific areas of health research such as oncology, bio-informatics and bio-imaging, neurosciences, new generation vaccine research and research in HIV/AIDS.
With the aim to support Applied Research Department of Science & Technology (DST) & Department of Biotechnology (DBT) on Indian side and Russian Ministry of Science & Higher Education, have supported over 15 joint R&D projects in the areas such as Environmental Sciences, Energy (including renewable), Nano-science & Technology, Information & Communication Technologies and Biotechnology.
A new corporate level collaboration linkage for Technology Promotion with Skolkovo Foundation and other leading technology parks in Russia is also being promoted for Tech SME and Startup exchanges. This could be an effective mechanisms for promoting two way transfer of technologies. This new initiative can leverage joint intellectual and financial resources to develop technologies that would provide the solutions for tomorrow.
Promotion of entrepreneurship, innovation and techno-commercial R&D
India has one of the largest startup ecosystems in the world, the number of unicorns is testimony to the tremendous talent the country possesses. S&T-led innovation and entrepreneurship are priorities of both countries. Efforts are being made by the two Governments to support joint development of technologies and innovations to facilitate formation of ventures, acceleration programs, grant support for innovations, localization of innovative industries of the two countries based on innovative clusters and technology parks of two countries. To facilitate implementation of such activities, Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India and Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation in 2019 signed a MoU for cooperation in the field of Innovation. Under this MoU Indo-Russian Bridge for Innovation program, aimed at organizing and conducting start-up forum on an annual basis, as well as the business missions of medium-sized high-tech companies will be supported.
With the aim to connect Indian and Russian Science & Technology (S&T) led SMEs and Start-ups for joint R&D for technology development and for cross-country technology adaptation, the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India and the Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises (FASIE) of the Russian Federation have launched the India-Russia Joint Technology Assessment and Accelerated Commercialization Programme.
Bilateral Youth Innovation Exchange Program
Based on the Hon. PM initiative and vision to bring together the young school children of India and Russia, towards inculcating a spirit of innovation and collaboration between young minds, Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) and SIRIUS, Russia have conducted 02 Deep Learning and Exchange programs in 2018 and 2019.
This has nurtured the bilateral relations through youth in the field of education and cultural exchange with Science and Technology as the prime driver to motivate the youth to collectively understand and solve the global challenges.
In 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, an online program was developed between AIM and SIRIUS, in coordination with the Embassy of India, Moscow. The motivation of these program is to cultivate Co-innovation for societal/economic impact and also introduce the richness and strengths of cultural similarities of both countries.
Drawing inspiration from India’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Russia’s Big Challenges, these programs were focused on developing technological solutions (web-based and mobile applications) to address the grassroot problems of the two countries. A two week virtual educational learning, innovation and hackathon program was attended by 48 talented students aided by 16 educators and 16 mentors from India and Russia.
The educational exchange program and innovation hackathon also helped the students’ competencies on understanding 21st century technologies and developing innovative engineering and technological projects to meet the challenges of sustainable development. The Eight Program Focus Areas, namely, Linguistics: Embracing Cultural Talents of Russia and India; Distance Education: Statistical analysis of the difficulty of Olympiad tasks; Applied Cognitive Science: Development of web-platform for parallel neuro-imaging data processing; Health and well-being monitoring data analysis and abnormalities search; Promoting Sports, Fitness, and Games Training; Chemistry: On the Fly Check and Search identities in Chemical databases; Leveraging Artificial Intelligence: customizable news feed aligned to user interests; Digital Financial Assets of the 21st Century
India and Russia are active contributors to BRICS program. In addition of supporting joint R&D projects (with at least one partner from one more BRICS member country), there are active engagements at Young Scientists Conclaves and Youth Innovation events, in addition to Basic sciences cooperation. The latest BRICS R&D call was also focussed on combating the current pandemic, Covid-19. Joint projects are being formulated on developing new therapeutics (including vaccine), studying virology, applications of high computing and artificial intelligence against the COVID.
In addition to BRICS, two countries are actively supporting research engagements in SCO framework which includes all Central Asian countries within a broad circle around Russia, China and India. Young researchers are also provided special opportunities for interaction in addition to joint research projects. India has also taken over SCO Presidency in November 2020. Opportunities of Indian STI collaboration with CIS countries also has a great potential in near future.
G-20 is Group of 20 developed nations. Both India and Russia are members of this platform which acts as policy think tank. India will host the summit of this high-profile grouping in 2023 and India and Russia Bilateral, Multilateral STI strengths can also be leveraged to capture emerging technology markets with the help of G-20 nations.
There are opportunities and challenges for India and Russia in the 21 st century to become global knowledge economy. During the next two decades, Scientific Ministries and Agencies of both countries can strategically leverage collaborative advantage by building chosen alliances and partnerships that can have perceptible yields, such as R&D outputs through joint alliances which can contribute directly to national R&D priorities and outcomes for societal and economic impact; Accelerating institutional and human capacity building through joint exposure and linkages; Enable new paradigms for sustainable; Evolve modalities and mechanisms for seamlessly connecting Indian and Russian research with global efforts particularly in the frontier areas of S&T and in areas addressing global challenges; Absorbing experience of existing global research facilities in fine-tuning and/or coupling with upcoming or existing research facilities; etc. Certain focussed initiatives which need to be pursued are listed below :-
(a) Increasing the number of joint events through SME, Startup and Academic competitions and scientific programs ensuring mutual access to unique research facilities / assets and commercialization of new technologies.
(b) Facilitate business interactions, between Deep-Tech small and medium-sized innovative enterprises through specialized investment funds that comprise of public and private capital, additional funding for these enterprises and ease their entry into the Russian and Indian markets.
(c) Expanding partnerships between Russian and leading CIS countries like Belarus and Indian Incubators, Technology Parks and Innovation centers.
(d) Creation of multiple Technology Promotion Centers operating both in Russia, CIS and India with the support of Qualified and reliable intermediary companies and consultancies that provide technical support, technical translations, and legal support for fast-tracking SME and Industrial co-operation.
(e) Creation of new instruments for fellowships, internships, young entrepreneurial exchanges, and joint development of technologies.
(f) Capturing of emerging technologies market space in CIS / SCO countries.
Dr. Shishir Shrotriya, Counsellor (Science & Technology)
Science & Technology Wing
Embassy of India in Moscow,
Address: Moscow, Vorontsovo Pole 9/3
Tel/Fax: +7(495) 916 0297.