India and Russia sought to reinvigorate their “time-tested” friendship on Saturday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin presided over signing of a clutch of big-ticket defence and energy deals.
The two leaders also signalled a strong commitment to working together on key global and regional issues confronting their nations – including terrorism.
“Russia’s clear stand on the need to combat terrorism mirrors our own,” Modi said as he sought Moscow’s support in New Delhi’s fight against cross-border terrorism. “We affirm the need for zero tolerance in dealing with terrorists and their supporters,” he added.
“President Putin and I have just concluded an extensive and useful conversation on the entire spectrum of our engagement,” he said after an annual summit meeting that lasted nearly three hours.
Modi began with a Russian proverbial saying that sees one “old friend” as more precious than two “new friends,” in an apparent reference to the recent churning in the relations between the two countries.
Relations between India and Russia – once considered all-weather allies -- have weakened in recent times with India’s pronounced tilt towards the United States. The recent first ever Russia-Pakistan joint military exercise in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was Moscow’s way of signalling that it should not be taken for granted by Delhi. That India conveyed its displeasure to Moscow about its military exercise with Pakistan while simultaneously buying $5 billion worth of weapons, including long-range air-defence systems, speaks to the underlying tensions despite a recognition that both sides still need each other.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar said Modi and Putin “strongly condemned” terrorism in all forms and emphasised on the need for international collaboration and denying safe haven, stopping recruitment and border training. “The two sides also talked about an international legal regime to deal with direct or indirect support for terrorism.”
He said India appreciated Russia’s unequivocal condemnation of a militant attack that killed 19 soldiers at an Indian Army base in Kashmir ‘s Uri. “Russia’s stand on terror is clear. Put two and two together,” he said, when asked if Moscow had backed the army’s surgical strikes.
Jaishankar said India had full faith in Russia. “We are satisfied that Russia understands India’s interests, won’t do anything contrary to our interests,” he said, when asked about the Moscow-Islamabad military exercise.
The deals signed on Saturday included three major defence agreements. The two countries announced plans to set up a joint venture to build helicopters in India, which will also buy surface-to-air missile systems from its former Cold War ally. Officials have said the plan is for the joint venture to build at least 200 Kamov helicopters required by the country’s defence forces, and is part of Modi’s drive to build a defence industrial base in the south Asian nation.
“We continue to expand, diversify and deepen economic engagement. Businesses, industry between our countries is connected more deeply today,” Modi said.
The S-400 surface-to-air missiles are meant to strengthen India’s defences along its borders with China and Pakistan, military officials have said.