India pulls out of multilateral exercise amid China tensions

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Updated on Aug 30, 2020 05:46 AM IST
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ByRahul Singh and Rezaul H Laskar

NEW DELHI: India has withdrawn from a multi-nation army exercise being hosted by Russia in which around 20 countries including China are expected to take part next month at a time when talks with China to reduce border tensions in eastern Ladakh are stuck in a stalemate, people familiar with the developments said on Saturday.

Exercise Kavkaz-2020 will be held in southern Russia’s Astrakhan region from September 15 to 27. The Pakistan army is also likely to take part in the joint drills that are part of a four-year exercise cycle of the Russian army.

The decision not to go ahead with participating in the Kavkaz-2020 multilateral exercise was made following consultations between the defence ministry and the external affairs ministry that took into consideration several factors, the officials cited above said on the condition of anonymity.

“There is a decision not to take part in contact exercises in view of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to ensure the safety of our troops,” the officials said. The expected presence in the exercise of troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both states that aren’t recognised by India, in Kavkaz-2020 was also a factor in the decision, said one of the officials.

Most UN member states see Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia, though both are recognised by Russia. India doesn’t recognise both as independent states as they are not members of the UN. India’s presence at such as an exercise could have given rise to delicate diplomatic issues, a second official said.

Criticism of India’s possible presence at Kavkaz-2020 alongside Chinese and Pakistani troops has been growing ever since reports first emerged that New Delhi was extended an invitation to send a tri-services contingent to the exercise.

India was earlier planning to send around 180 troops from an infantry battalion along with elements of the air force and observers from the Indian Navy for the exercise. A total of 13,000 troops from different countries are expected to take part in the drills.

Questions have also been raised about India participating in an exercise featuring Chinese troops amid the months-long standoff along the LAC and the death of 20 Indian soldiers in the violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15.

The Russian exercise has also sparked tensions with Ukraine, which is organising its own command-staff exercise United Efforts-2020, for which it plans to involve NATO countries. This exercise, too, will be held at around the same time.

While it is not uncommon for the armies of India, China and Pakistan to be part of multi-nation exercises on neutral territories (they even deploy alongside in United Nations peace missions), India’s participation in Kavkaz-2020 had assumed importance because of the ongoing border row in the Ladakh sector.

India and China were unable to bridge their differences on the disengagement and de-escalation process along the LAC during recent diplomatic talks, with New Delhi emphasising the need to resolve “outstanding issues” speedily, as reported by Hindustan Times on August 20.

People familiar with developments during the meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs dismissed an assertion in a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry that the two sides had “positively evaluated the progress” in the disengagement process.

The military dialogue between senior commanders from the two sides has hit a roadblock due to Chinese reluctance to restore status quo ante in some key friction areas along the LAC. The commanders set the time-frame and method of disengagement while the WMCC monitors the process.

No dates have yet been fixed for the next round of talks between corps commander-ranked officers who have so far met five times but failed to break the deadlock.

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