"India and Russia have worked together to overcome the difficulties of the Covid pandemic and I am sure bilateral relations will emerge even stronger as a result of our planned meetings this year," he said.
India’s strategic ties with Russia has very deep historic roots which provide stability and trust strong enough to navigate the complexities of the current world, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has said, as he sought to allay concerns that New Delhi is under pressure from the US to abandon military-technical cooperation with Moscow.
Shringla’s remarks came during an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant during which he was asked whether India would bow to the US pressure and give up the S-400 air defence missile systems deal with Russia.
In October 2018, India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, despite a warning from the previous Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.
Responding to a question, Shringla said, India’s relations with the US and Russia stand on their own merits and all the major powers recognise fully India’s tradition of an independent foreign policy.
“Our Strategic Partnership with Russia has very deep historic roots which provide stability, trust and confidence strong enough to navigate the complexities of the current world. We have a global strategic partnership with the United States,” he said.
“I do not want to comment on the specific defence contracts, but let me state clearly that all the contracts concluded with Russia are being implemented according to schedule. These are consistent with India’s defence and security needs and interests,” he said.
The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.
When asked about the cancellation of the India-Russia Annual Summit in 2020 amid speculation of growing uneasiness between the two countries over certain sensitive diplomatic and security issues, like India’s ties with the US, Shringla said: “The only reason for not holding the Annual Summit last year was the Covid pandemic.”
“However, we did have very high-level interactions, including a visit by our External Affairs Minister and two visits by Defence Minister to Moscow, one of which was for the 75th Anniversary of the Victory Day,” he said.
Shringla said the annual summit is a unique feature of the India-Russia relations since 2000.
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir have met 19 times since 2014 during bilateral summits and on the sidelines of multilateral fora.
“They spoke with each other four times last year and enjoy a unique personal rapport,” he said.
“India and Russia have worked together to overcome the difficulties of the Covid pandemic and I am sure bilateral relations will emerge even stronger as a result of our planned meetings this year,” he said.
When asked about Russia’s unease with Quad ? a group of US, Japan, Australia and India, Shringla said India sees “this concept as a framework for engagement with Russia.”
Russia is an important Pacific power. During his speech in Vladivostok in Russia in September 2019, Prime Minister Modi referred to Vladivostok as a junction between Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific, Shringla said.
“The Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor which will further link to the Northern Sea Route and the Pacific will create a connectivity continuum that will bind India and Russia together from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean,” he said.
“Therefore, contrary to certain speculation, we feel that in reality, India and Russia have more in common on the concept of Indo-Pacific. A multi-polar world and multi-polar Asia has to recognise the indispensable role of India and Russia,” he added.
Shringla said India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a club of limited members nor as a new theatre for geostrategic contestation.
“It includes all nations in this geography as also others beyond who have a stake in it aimed at Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR),” he said.
“India’s approach focuses on a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. We emphasise respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the region, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of use or threat of use of force, and adherence to international laws, rules and regulations.
“With respect to Quad, as vibrant and pluralistic democracies with shared values, India, US, Japan and Australia have collectively affirmed the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“They are aimed at advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region,” Shringla said, amidst China flexing its muscles in the region.
When asked about the challenges to India’s security stemming from troubled Afghan settlement, Shringla said: Afghanistan is passing through a critical phase.”
The peace process in Afghanistan began last September in Doha. India participated at the level of External Affairs Minister in the inaugural session of the Intra-Afghan Negotiations.
“We are of the view that any peace initiative which can bring peace and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan must be welcomed. India, as an important stakeholder, has been playing its role,” he said.
He, however, said India is equally concerned about the rise in violence as well as targeted attacks on civil society activists and media persons in Afghanistan.
“Violence and talks cannot proceed simultaneously; it is not sustainable. There is a need to call for a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan,” he said.
India is actively following the developments in Afghanistan and remains engaged with other regional countries, and Russia, Shringla said. He said that Russia is an important ally as well as an important stakeholder in the region.
“India, Russia and Iran recently had a trilateral meeting in Moscow on the Afghan situation,” he said.
“All efforts must be made to preserve the gains Afghanistan has made in the past two decades. It is for this reason, we have always supported an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process,” Shringla said.
India has committed over USD 3 billion as part of its development assistance to Afghanistan.
On Russia-India cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus, he said Russia was the first country to register a vaccine against COVID-19.
“Of the 500 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine that Russia plans to produce in 2021, a significant portion is expected to be produced in India,” Shringla said.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is in negotiations with several other Indian producers to manufacture higher doses of vaccines in India for use in Russia, India and other countries as well. The phase-3 trials of Sputnik V are ongoing in India and we expect regulatory approvals for emergency use authorization in India in due course, he said.
“India-Russia cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 has reinforced the traditional bonds of friendship between our two countries. During the peak of Covid last spring, India supplied a consignment of Hydroxychloroquine tablets which was highly appreciated by the Russian leadership,” he added.
He expressed hope that India and Russia partnership will play a significant role in combating the pandemic.
“In the post-pandemic world, we would see a redefining of our understanding in a number of areas, including our understanding of security, which until now, was thought largely in the military, intelligence and economic terms,” he said.
“Today, greater weight is being assigned to health security and resilience of supply chains. Likewise, we will have to focus on the reform of multilateral institutions and recalibrate our approach to address global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, etc. In all these areas, India and Russia can work together for the common good,” he added.