India, Russia discuss ways to strengthen strategic ties
India and Russia on Tuesday discussed ways to deepen military and strategic cooperation, including manufacturing of Russian military hardware in the country and the start of talks on creating a free trade area between India and the Eurasian Economic Union.
These matters figured in the meeting between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, the focus of whose visit to New Delhi was preparations for the annual India-Russia Summit to be held in the country later this year.
“We talked about the longstanding partnership in nuclear, space and defence sectors... We spoke of connectivity, including the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chennai-Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor,” Jaishankar told a joint news conference after the talks. Lavrov said the two sides discussed military cooperation, including the expansion of the manufacturing of state-of-the-art Russian weapons in India under the “Make in India” and “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiatives. “In this strategically important area, Russia is a major foreign contractor for India. We are the only partner that indeed transfers to India cutting edge military technology,” he said. “Deepening of military cooperation serves national interests of both countries. At the same time, we respect the right of our Indian friends to diversify ties in this area,” he said.
Jaishankar said India’s “defence sector requirements in the past year were expeditiously addressed” by Russia – an apparent reference to the country’s emergency military needs amid the border standoff with China in Ladakh sector.
According to a recent estimate by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), Russia was the most-affected supplier as India’s arms imports fell 33% between 2011-15 and 2016-20.
Responding to a question on reported US pressure on India to prevent military-technical cooperation with Russia, Lavrov said: “We did not discuss these statements from the US, instead we confirmed that we are going to deepen our military cooperation.”
Did not meet PM
Lavrov did not have an interaction with the Indian Prime Minister, usually a standard feature for a visit to New Delhi by a senior Russian leader. The people familiar of the developments sought to play down the matter, saying no such meeting was scheduled as the PM Narendra Modi was away in West Bengal to address public meetings at Cooch Behar and Howrah as part of the BJP’s campaign for the state elections. There were no indications of differences at the joint press conference with both Lavrov and Jasishankar giving a positive readout on their discussions.
Lavrov said the two sides had also agreed on joint efforts to tackle a decline in mutual trade due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They also discussed cooperation in nuclear energy, space, including manned programmes, building rocket engines and satellite navigation, and transportation infrastructure projects in Russia’s Far East and the Arctic, he said.
Collaboration on Covid-19 vaccines figured in the talks, and Lavrov noted that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has signed contracts with several Indian firms to manufacture about 750 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. He didn’t rule out further cooperation to cover manufacturing of Indian vaccines in Russia, while Jaishankar said a decision would be made by regulatory authorities of both sides. “For us, were those vaccines to be made in India, it would be one more affirmation of the importance of ‘Make in India’ and our own vaccine capacities,” Jaishankar said. The Russian minister also conveyed a message from President Valdimir Putin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and invited Jaishankar to visit Russia. Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said there are various difficulties associated with infrastructure development projects in Russia’s Far East and the proposed free trade area with the Eurasian Economic Union. “Besides India’s resource constraints, there’s also the influence of China. It won’t be easy for us to compete with China’s financial resources and economic muscle-flexing. Russia itself has been concerned about increasing Chinese influence in these areas,” he said.