New Delhi: Despite pressure from the US, India and Russia Tuesday decided to further deepen their defence cooperation, with Moscow planning to set up a manufacturing unit producing Russian arms under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
This was decided during a bilateral meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Delhi. Lavrov was on a hurricane tour to India and left for Islamabad later in the day.
“We discussed prospective and additional manufacturing of Russian military equipment in India within the concept ‘Make in India’ … We are going to deepen our military and technical cooperation,” Lavrov said at a press conference jointly with Jaishankar.
On the issue of India buying S-400 missiles from Moscow, Lavrov said he “did not sense” any change in stance by New Delhi, indicating that the deal will be going through seamlessly.
This comes at a time when the Joe Biden administration has taken a hard stance against Russia as it has decided to continue with the Donald Trump-era policy of imposing Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on those countries that buy armaments from America’s foes.
The $5.2 billion S-400 air defence system deal between India and Russia has become a major cause of consternation between New Delhi and Washington. India has already apprised the US of the fact that the deal was finalised before CAATSA came into being in 2017.
“Here I didn’t see any changes from our Indian partners and friends… We didn’t discuss statements from the USA. We have a governmental committee on military-technical cooperation that has its own plans,” said Lavrov.
During the visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to India last month, the US had raised the issue of India buying S-400 missiles from Moscow and he hinted at possible sanctions.
Lavrov and Jaishankar both said the decision to go for more purchase of arms and other cooperation under their defence partnership will be discussed during a meeting between the defence ministers, which will take place later this year.
Meanwhile, Russia also denied that it is entering into any military alliance with China.
“No, we have fixed that in our bilateral relations adopted at the highest level in the course of the Russia and China Summit where we said that our relations are highest in history, but these relations do not pursue the goal of establishing a military alliance,” the Russian foreign minister said.
Lavrov’s visit was expected to pave the way for the India-Russia Annual Summit for which Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit India.
“Much of our discussions today covered the preparations for President Putin’s visit for the Annual Summit later this year. I am sure Minister Lavrov would share my assessment that our bilateral cooperation remains energetic and forward looking. We talked about longstanding partnership in nuclear, space and defence sectors,” Jaishankar said.
However, no dates were announced Tuesday for the annual summit.
The summit, held alternately in India and Russia, could not take place last year — with the Ministry of External Affairs citing Covid-19 as the reason. Last year was the first time since 2000 when India and Russia did not hold the summit.
Russia ‘key’ to India’s Indo-Pacific initiative
During their meeting, Jaishankar reiterated that he sees Moscow as a “key partner” in New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific initiative, something that Russia calls “anti-China” policy.
“I shared our viewpoint on the Indo-Pacific… Contemporary challenges require countries to work together in new and different ways. Such cooperation also reflects the multipolar and rebalanced character of global politics… As we implement our ‘Act East and Beyond’ policy, Russia is a very important partner whether it is their Far East or whether it is the Chennai-Vladivostok corridor,” Jaishankar said.
India had first mooted the idea to invite Russia into its Indo-Pacific strategic initiative last year when the matter was discussed between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and Ambassador of India to Russia D. Bala Venkatesh Varma.
Lavrov said, “We have a strategic partnership and at the heart of our partnership is the friendship between our nations.”
The Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor is expected to be an alternative trade route between India and Russia in addition to the Mumbai-St Petersburg shipping route, cutting the distance by half and also saving costs.
Both countries are also planning to kickstart talks for a free trade agreement between India and Eurasia.
Jaishankar also batted for enhanced investment opportunities in each other’s countries.
“We note the appetite for greater investments in each other by both countries … On my part, I briefed Minister Lavrov on recent developments in India that open up new opportunities for Russian businesses in various sectors. The Atmanirbhar Bharat economic vision can facilitate a more contemporary economic relationship in the post-Covid era,” the external affairs minister said.
Moscow format of Afghan peace talks
According to Lavrov, no agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders will be stable and sustainable unless all sections of the Afghan society, including religious and ethnic groups, are included in the talks.
“Decision on settlement in Pakistan should see participation from all political parties as well as ethnic and religious groups of Afghanistan, otherwise it’s not going to be stable… Any other way will not lead to the desired agreements and will be detrimental for all stakeholders,” he said.
He added: “We would welcome the consultations from neighbours of Afghanistan… The best way is the Moscow format.”
Lavrov said the Moscow format of talks includes every country that has a stake in the war-torn country and, hence, any settlement under that format will lead to long-term peace in Afghanistan.
India had participated in the Moscow format of talks in 2018 at a non-official level when it sent Amar Sinha, former Indian ambassador to Kabul, and T.C.A. Raghavan, former Indian envoy to Islamabad, to Russia.
Lavrov was also accompanied by the Russian special envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov. Moscow hosted a meeting of the ‘extended troika’ — comprising representatives from the US, China and Pakistan — that was aimed at taking stock of the intra-Afghan dialogue.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)