India’s Foreign Secretary is on a two-day trip to Russia to “add momentum” to bilateral ties. The visit comes after the annual India-Russia summit was canceled in December 2020.
Harsh Vardhan Shringla will be taking part in the India-Russia Foreign Office Consultations with his Russian counterpart, deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov.
After arriving in Moscow, he said: “I think, we are on our way to see how we can add momentum to an already vibrant relationship, a very strong India-Russia special and privileged strategic partnership. Thank you. Spasibo vam (Thank you in Russian)”.
Strengthening the #IndiaRussia Special & Privileged Strategic Partnership, Foreign Secretary @harshvshringla arrives in #Moscow on a 2-day official visit to hold Foreign Office Consultations.#дружбаदोस्ती@PMOIndia @DrSJaishankar @MEAIndia @mfa_russia @RusEmbIndia pic.twitter.com/kaxK2dse5c
— India in Russia (@IndEmbMoscow) February 16, 2021
India’s envoy to Russia DB Venkatesh Varma had earlier said that the meeting would set forth an “active and ambitious” agenda for bilateral relations, including the annual bilateral summit between India and Russia this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be visiting India for the summit.
Reports suggest the preparations for that summit, including deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov’s visit to India early this year for the Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) on Trade, Economics, science and technology, and cultural cooperation would be reviewed by Shringla and his Russian counterpart.
Varma said, “India Russia relations are rock solid. We will also expand our cooperation including building on PM Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in September 2019.”
On February 16, India and Russia had held bilateral consultations on issues pertaining to the United Nations Security Council, in Moscow.
“Both sides and appreciated intensive on-going bilateral contact on UN issues. The Indian delegation briefed the Russian side on India’s priorities during its UNSC tenure,” India’s external affairs ministry said in a statement.
Ups and Downs In India-Russia Ties
Soon after the cancellation of the annual summit in December 2020, it was speculated that there were tensions between the two countries over India’s decision to join the US-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD. As per reports, it was the first time since 2000 that the India-Russia annual meeting was canceled.
However, India’s External Affairs Ministry was prompt to dismiss the reports and clarified that the annual summit had been canceled due to the Coronavirus crisis. In the current changing geopolitical scenario when the US and China are in conflict, India–Russia ties are also evolving.
Nandan Unnikrishnan, an expert on India-Russia relations, has written in Hindustan Times, that Chinese aggression in the border areas of eastern Ladakh brought India-China relations to an inflection point, but also demonstrated that Russia is capable of contributing to defusing tensions with China.
The same was quite visible in September 2020 when Russia had got both Chinese and Indian ministers together in Moscow for talks during the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had met their counterparts.
It is pertinent to mention that amid the border stand-off with China, the US was trying to woo India to the anti-China bloc, Quad. However, India has not made its position clear since it reached an agreement with Beijing to disengage its troops from the disputed Himalayan border.
In Unnikrishnan’s words, “Russia responded to these efforts to isolate it, by revving up its own ‘Pivot to the East’, the most distinct results of which are markedly improved relations with China, and better ties with Turkey (despite a brief hiccup), Iran and Pakistan”.
Despite the occasional hiccups in the India-Russia ties, the cordial relations with Moscow have been integral to India’s foreign policy, former Indian ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra writes in The Economic Times.
Apart from close cooperation on defense, the two sides have jointly worked in fields like oil and gas, nuclear energy, space, science, and technology.
Notwithstanding the threat of sanctions from the US, India would be receiving five S-400 air defense systems from Russia. Ahead of Putin’s visit, Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu would visit India in early 2021 for the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military-Technical Cooperation.
He would review the purchase/construction of four stealth frigates, besides the progress in projects to make AK-203 rifles and Ka-226 light utility helicopters in India. A long-term Military-Technical Cooperation Program for 2021-30 would also be finalized.