As Indian and Russian foreign and defence ministers sat down for their inaugural 2+2 meeting, the challenges from Afghanistan and China were on top of India’s list of pressing concerns though Russia pushed back against the Indo-Pacific, Quad and AUKUS.
There seemed to be some divergence on Indo-Pacific between India and Russia despite numerous efforts by New Delhi to explain the concept and its imperative. Briefing journalists, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said the Indian side was at pains to explain India’s position on the Indo-pacific and the country’s security concerns.
Both PM Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar described the current period as “a critical juncture in the global geopolitical environment which is in great flux, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic”. This formed the context to India’s discussions at the meeting.
Shringla said the Russian side had given a detailed briefing on the Ukraine issue amid apprehensions in the West that Russia might invade that country. In his remarks at the 2+2 meeting, Jaishankar said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has raised questions about the current model of global affairs. But the long-standing challenges remain even as new ones emerge. Prominent among them are terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation. The situation in Afghanistan has wider repercussions, including for Central Asia. West Asia or the Middle East continues to present hotspots. Maritime security and safety is another domain of shared concern.”
While its unclear what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the meeting, he raised the issue of Russia’s supply of S-400 missile systems to India at a press meet later.
India and Russia inked a new expansive 10-year pact on militarytechnical cooperation as well as the deal for AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles, even as defence minister Rajnath Singh raised China’s “completely unprovoked aggression” in eastern Ladakh while seeking greater partnership with Moscow across all domains.
Singh’s blunt statement came in the backdrop of the deepening partnership between Russia and China, which has also seen Beijing emerge as one of Moscow’s top clients in terms of arms imports.
“The pandemic, the extraordinary militarisation and expansion of armaments in our neighbourhood and the completely unprovoked aggression on our northern border since early summer of 2020 have thrown in several challenges,” the minister said during the inaugural two-plus-two dialogue with Russia.
While noting that New Delhi was confident of overcoming these challenges, Singh said, “Recognising that its development needs are colossal and that its defence challenges are legitimate, real and immediate, India seeks partners who are sensitive and responsive to India’s expectations and requirements.”
Expressing hope that Russia will remain “a major partner” for India in these changing circumstances, he called for greater military-technical collaboration, advanced research, co-development and co-production of defence equipment, which can lead to self-reliance in defence production in India. “Separately, we proposed greater engagements in central Asia and the Indian Ocean region,” he said.
Preceding the two-plus-two dialogue, the 20th meeting of India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military-Technical Cooperation was held between the delegations led by Singh and his counterpart General Sergey Shoigu. The agreement on the programme for military-technical cooperation from 2021-2031 was inked during the meeting.
Another clear takeaway was the Rs 5,124 crore contract for procurement of 6,01,427 AK-203 assault rifles through the joint venture called Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited. Among the other deals in the pipeline is the $1.5 billion one for the IGLA-S very-short range air defence missile systems. The deal will involve an initial off-the-shelf purchase of the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile systems followed by technology transfer to Bharat Dynamics for subsequent production.