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Rajnath, Jaishankar to visit Russia for SCO

Aug 27, 2020 11:50 PM IST

New Delhi

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Defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar will make back-to-back visits to Russia early next month for meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that are expected to bring them face to face with their Chinese counterparts amid the border standoff.

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Singh is expected to be in Moscow during September 3-4 for a meeting of the SCO defence ministers while Jaishankar is set to visit the Russian capital for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting on September 10, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Thursday.

The visits are yet to be officially announced. Asked about the matter during a news briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava only confirmed that the external affairs minister has received an invitation for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting.

This will be Singh’s second visit to Moscow in a little more than two months – he travelled to Russia to participate in the Victory Day parade on June 24, reflecting the importance attached to the defence partnership between the two countries.

The people said bilateral meetings had so far been arranged between Singh and Jaishankar and their Russian counterparts, though there were no proposals as of now for meetings with the Chinese ministers expected to attend the SCO meetings. The people added the possibility of such meetings too appeared unlikely, given the differences that have emerged in the disengagement and de-escalation process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The people also ruled out the possibility of Russia playing any sort of role in mediating between India and China. “The Russian side has been briefed by the Indian side on the border situation but there has been no discussion whatsoever on any sort of mediation,” said one of the people cited above.

At a time when foreign trips by Indian ministers are extremely rare because of the pandemic, Singh and Jaishankar are travelling to Moscow largely because of the insistence of the Russian side, currently the chair of both Brics and SCO, the people said.

These meetings will be preceded by a virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) grouping on September 4, the Russian foreign ministry announced on Thursday. That meeting, to be chaired foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, will exchange views on “topical international matters”, said Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

Zakharova said the Brics foreign ministers will discuss cooperation in three key areas – politics and security, economics and finance and humanitarian ties.

The Brics meeting was to have been held in Moscow at the same time as the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting but was converted into a video conference after the Brazilian and South African ministers expressed their inability to travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the people cited above said.

The Brics and SCO summits are expected to be held in St Petersburg in October.

Indian, Chinese and Pakistani troops are also set to take part Exercise Kavkaz 20, a multilateral tri-services drill being held in Astrakhan region of southern Russia during September 15-27. The exercise will bring together some 13,000 troops from 20 countries, including the eight members of SCO.

“The scope of Ex Kavkaz 20 is vast and its aim is to provide real-time training to counter international terrorism,” a second person said. The Indian Army will send a company or about 180 troops from an infantry battalion and elements from other arms along with elements of the air force and observers from the navy.

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