By Vinay Shukla
The three-day (July 7-9) Moscow visit of the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar was much more than a routine exchange of visits between New Delhi and Moscow although media comments mainly focused on presumed differences between the two Cold War era partners with a long history.
He, as the co-chair of Indo-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific-Technological and Cultural Cooperation had a detailed meeting with his Russian counterpart Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov to discuss the preparations for the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin later this year. Due to COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions the two leaders had agreed to postpone their regular summit last year when the Russian leader was scheduled to visit India. The joint commission session scheduled for April this year was postponed due to second wave and is now expected to be held in August in New Delhi. Several agreements are being prepared to facilitate and safeguard mutual-investments in each other’s economy. Visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is also in the pipeline for joint commission on military and military-technological cooperation session co-chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh from the Indian side.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after his talks with his Indian counterpart said that defence cooperation is an important part of our relations.
“We exchanged information on progress in implementing current defence cooperation contracts and on the work to expand the corresponding legal framework. We reiterated our willingness to participate in projects to localise the production of Russian defence products and to create joint ventures in India as part of implementing import substitution programmes titled “Make in India” and “Self-Sufficient India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) announced by our Indian colleagues. We are confident that building up efforts in this area fully meets our countries’ national interests and regional security concerns.
He also noted progress in interaction in the peaceful exploration of outer space, primarily as part of the support by the Roscosmos State Corporation of the Indian manned mission Gaganyaan.
After last year’s postponement of the summit the perceived differences were blown out of proportion and there has been a lot of scepticism over the future of bilateral Indo-Russian relations in both nations. Dr Jaishankar faced a complex task of dispelling misgivings. Reaching out to the experts communities he clearly stated where we actually stand.
“Relations between Russia and India have been among the steadiest of the major relationships in the world after the Second World War. Russians will surely recall the ups and downs in their ties with the United States, Europe, China or Japan, or for that matter, Turkey and Iran. On their part, objective Indians would also recognise that this was the case with them as well.
Where India-Russia bilateral ties are concerned, there have been changes – even issues – from time to time. But at the end of the day, the logic of geo-politics was so compelling that we barely remember these even as minor aberrations. The undeniable reality of the exceptional resilience of our ties is surely a phenomenon that is worth analysing. The paradox though is that precisely because it has held so steady, this relationship is sometimes taken for granted. The case for its constant nurturing is therefore as powerful, if not more, than with the more volatile ones,” Dr Jaishankar declared addressing Russian experts’ community at prestigious Primakov Institute of International Economic Relations.
In an obvious reference to India’s perceived pro-US tilt and institutionalisation of QUAD (Australia, India, Japan and US) as part of Indo-Pacific strategy seen in Moscow as “Asian NATO” rapidly changing global scenario Dr Jaishankar underscored that both India and Russia have changed and India’s interests have grown well beyond the sub-continent.
“If our ties have been stable, this is not to say that we have remained static as nations and societies. In the last quarter century, India has become the sixth largest economy, a nuclear weapon power, an IT Centre, a reservoir of global talent and an active shaper of global debates. Our interests and influence have grown well beyond the Sub-Continent and we are often perceived as first responders in crisis situations. Russia, of course, has meanwhile transitioned fully into the post-Soviet era and all that this implies. Its inherent strength as a Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power and its long-standing global status – whether as a P5 or what we can call as N2 – makes it unmistakably critical to the world order. Equally important, Russia has regularly demonstrated an ability to influence outcomes across regions and issues. Its salience in domains that matter, like energy or technology, is especially noteworthy. And indeed, both are nations have evolved even as our existence has become more globalised economically, connected virtually and driven technologically.”
He pointed that it is not just that India and Russia are a good fit; it is equally that this continues dynamically even as both of them and the world itself undergo continuous changes.
The Indian minister’s speech at Primakov set the stage for his talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov who just returned to Moscow from visit to Indonesia and Laos and attending special ministerial meeting of ASEAN in Jakarta. Centrality of ASEAN in PM Modi’s Indo-Pacific vision and Russia’s Asia-Pacific doctrine is a point of convergence.
“We had an in-depth discussion of the processes unfolding in the Asia-Pacific Region. Both sides strongly reiterated their position in favour of maintaining and strengthening the central role of ASEAN in the security architecture that has taken shape there over the past decade, including the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum on security, meetings of ASEAN defence ministers and partners and other formats,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the joint press conference with the Indian External Affairs Minister.
Afghanistan Brings New Delhi Moscow Closer
Some may have written off Russia as India’s reliable partner but on the back of hasty US withdrawal the spike in violence in Afghanistan and the Taliban claiming control over 85 percent territory and check posts on borders with Tajikistan and Iran, they reiterated their resolve to closely cooperate in seeking a peaceful political settlement in that country and agreed to continue efforts for a solution on bilateral and multilateral basis.
Dr Jaishankar’s Moscow visit coincided with the presence of the Talibani delegation in the Russian capital. Ahead of his talks in Moscow TASS reported that since India is the only major nation which does not maintain contacts with the Taliban, Foreign Minister Lavrov would brief him on the outcome of talks with the Taliban delegation, which formally is seen as a terrorist organisation by the Russian court ruling.
“We expressed similar or overlapping approaches to key issues of our time and pressing regional matters, including the political settlement of a very complicated situation in Afghanistan,” Lavrov stated at the joint presser.
He said that ministerial meeting of foreign ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tajik capital Dushanbe will discuss situation in Afghanistan. China, Russia, India and Pakistan are also SCO members and each has its specific interest in the war torn country.
– The writer is a Moscow-based independent analyst. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda