Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India was timely. It was important for both sides to mark the importance they attach to bilateral relations and the alignment of their policies on pertinent issues in view of the flux in international relations. An impression was created of reduced warmth and understandings between Russia and India, which needed to be addressed.
The Russian President's decision to visit India, be it for a few hours, notwithstanding pandemic concerns and the Ukraine crisis carried many diplomatic messages. With China and India locked up in a military confrontation, the visit signalled Russia's intention to pursue an independent course in relations with its two strategic partners, especially as one important objective of the visit was to solidify defence ties with India. The arrival of the first deliveries of the S-400 to coincide with Putin's visit had significance.
The inaugural 2+2 dialogue between the respective Defence and Foreign Ministers has been initiated at a time when India is feeling threatened by China, and India's ties with the US have expanded. The Indian side also has signalled its determination to resist any untoward US pressure through CAATSA to reduce our defence ties with Russia. The institution of this dialogue provides a balance to our foreign policy as we have such dialogues only with Quad partners: US, Japan and Australia. The next round of this dialogue will be held in Russia next year.
The remarks made by Putin publicly on Afghanistan have narrowed the gap that had developed between the two countries on developments there, which are a cause of concern as their fall-out for our security is real, with the Taliban now controlling the country with Pakistan's support. Russia now supports the broad line that India and others have on Afghanistan, namely, the need for an inclusive government, the Taliban honouring its agreements, especially that it will not allow Afghan soil for terrorist attacks against any country. It has been agreed that close consultation and coordination between India and Russia on Afghanistan will continue. Russia has been reaching out to Pakistan militarily, causing some concern to us. By underlining the strategic importance of India-Russia ties, Putin's visit sets some limits to how much Pakistan can hope to drive a wedge between India and Russia, which it seeks to do. Counterterrorism is an area of common interest, with convergence on dealing with terrorist entities such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and LeT. A specific reference has been made in the joint statement.
In the 2+2 dialogue, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh mentioned India's requirement for closer military and military-technical cooperation with Russia. He communicated our concerns about China quite directly by referring to militarisation and expansion of armament in our neighbourhood and the completely unprovoked aggression on our northern border.
Emphasising the legitimacy of our defence challenges, the Minister said meaningfully that India “seeks partners who are sensitive and responsive to India's expectations and requirements”. The Russian side recognises that the priority in India was on joint manufacturing, collaboration, technology transfers in the defence sector and this was the focus of the 2+2 meeting and summit level subsequent discussions, with convergence in thinking. Raksha Mantri proposed greater engagements in the Indian Ocean region where Russia's thinking is not in alignment with ours. During the visit, India and Russia have also signed a cooperation programme in the field of Defence for the next ten years (2021 to 2031).
The Indo-Pacific area is one in which India and Russia have different perceptions, and efforts to close this gap will continue. Russia is still reluctant to use the term Indo-Pacific and prefers the term Asia-Pacific, which from India's point of view is exclusive as it does not include India and, besides, is a Western term originally. India and Russia are already cooperating quite extensively in the Indo-Pacific region through the Vladivostok Chennai maritime corridor, for which the Draft Project Report is nearing completion. Russia exercises with us in the Indian Ocean and in the Western Pacific. The International North-South Corridor development will raise Russia's stakes in the Indian Ocean trade routes.
A record number of 28 agreements were concluded on the economic side, covering various sectors such as trade, energy, culture, intellectual property, accountancy, cyber-attacks in the banking sector, manpower, geological exploration survey, education, etc.
The signing of the agreement to jointly manufacture over six lakhs AK 203 assault rifles in India with technology transfer contributes to AatmaNirbhar in defence manufacturing. RELOS, the reciprocal logistical support agreement., could not be signed during the visit. It has been put off for the time being as some issues need to be discussed further and, according to the Foreign Secretary, it will be concluded at the earliest.
Minister Jaishankar rightly mentioned during the visit that PM Modi and President Putin “share a relationship of great trust and confidence”. In his own public statement, PM Modi referred to Putin's attachment and personal commitment to relations with India.
A record number of 28 agreements were concluded on the economic side, covering various sectors such as trade, energy, culture, intellectual property, accountancy, cyber-attacks in the banking sector, manpower, geological exploration survey, education, etc. The energy sector holds great promise. Both sides are interested in more investment in the oil and gas sectors as well as petrochemicals. A Gas Task Force has been set up to examine investment in gas infrastructure and distribution projects, use of natural gas in transport and emerging fuels, including hydrogen. Long term cooperation in the areas of inland waterways, civilian shipbuilding, fertiliser, coking coal, steel, skilled manpower is envisaged. We have invited Russian investments in the steel sector. Cooperation in Russia's Far East holds great potential. We are interested in collaborating with Russia on the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic. It is intended to make greater efforts to achieve the trade target of US $ 30 billion by 2025.
All in all, a very productive visit that testifies to our increasingly effective foreign policy.