Expressing “concern” about the situation in Afghanistan, visiting Russia President Vladimir Putin on Monday flagged “fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime” as key challenges on which both countries will have to cooperate.
“We continue to cooperate jointly on global agenda… our positions are quite similar…in the fight against terrorism, also fighting drug trafficking and organized crime,” Putin said, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi listening before their bilateral meeting began.
“It is natural we’re concerned about the development of the situation in Afghanistan,” the Russian President said, in his opening remarks.
He called India as a “great power”, a “friendly” country and a “time-tested friend”.
Modi said, “Despite the challenges posed by Covid, there is no change in the pace of growth of India-Russia relations. Our special & privileged strategic partnership continues to become stronger.”
“In the last few decades, the world witnessed many fundamental changes and different kinds of geopolitical equations emerged but the friendship of India and Russia remained constant,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the relation between India and Russia is “truly a unique and reliable model of inter-State friendship”.
Putin, who arrived in New Delhi on Monday evening, met Modi at Hyderabad House, hours after the first ever India-Russia 2+2 ministerial meeting took place between Foreign and Defence ministers.
Till now India has had a 2+2 format of meetings with the US, Japan and Australia—all members of the Quad grouping.
India signed four agreements with Russia as the two countries began their first ever 2+2 ministerial dialogue on Monday morning. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu and the two sides signed two contracts for manufacture of nearly 6 lakh AK 203 rifles under a joint venture in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, which was cleared by the government, finally, just days ago. The deal is worth over Rs 5000 crore.
Singh also brought up the issue of China’s aggressive posture along the norther border, during the 2+2 meet. He said that “the pandemic, the extra-ordinary militarisation and expansion of armament in our neighbourhood and the completely unprovoked aggression on our northern border since early summer of 2020 have thrown in several challenges” and added the India is “confident of overcoming these challenges with its strong political will and inherent capability of its people”.
Apart from the agreement for the Kalashnikov rifles, the two countries also signed an agreement for military technology cooperation for the next decade, from 2021 to 2031, and the Protocol of the 20th India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military & Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-M&MTC).
The 2+2 was preceded by the IRIGC-M&MTC meeting, in which Singh led the Indian delegation, which also included Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, the three service chiefs and other senior officials of the Defence Ministry.
Singh said in his opening remarks at the meeting that Russia is India’s long-standing special and privileged strategic partner with time-tested relations based on common interests in multilateralism, global peace and prosperity, mutual understanding and trust.
He appreciated Russia’s “strong support for India” and asserted that the close cooperation is not targeted against another country. Defence cooperation, he said, was one of the most important pillars of the bilateral partnership. The IRIGC-M&MTC “is a well-established mechanism since last two decades” and provides “a platform to discuss and implement mutually agreed agenda for defence cooperation”.
Singh described the first-ever India-Russia 2+2 ministerial dialogue as a special initiative, taken by the leaders of the two countries, which signals the higher relevance and necessity for cooperation between the two countries.
Separately, External Affairs minister S Jaishankar met Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Jaishankar said that they are meeting at a “critical juncture in the global geopolitical environment which is in great flux, especially in the aftermath of the COVID 19 pandemic”.
“As close friends and strategic partners, India and Russia have been working together to safeguard our common interests and to ensure peace, progress and prosperity for our people. Our ties have been close and time tested. In a world that has changed so much, they have been exceptionally steady,” he said.
“Our discussions today will address the emergence of multipolarity and rebalancing we look to the consequences of over centralized globalization. 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 radicalization. The situation in Afghanistan has wider repercussions including for Central Asia. In west Asia, the Middle East continues to present hotspots. Maritime security and safety is another domain of shared concern. We both have a common interest in ASEAN centrality and ASEAN driven platforms,” he said.
Lavrov said that both Russia and India have a “similar worldview of more poly-centric, more multipolar, more equitable world order.”
“We advocate similar or identical positions on the most important political and military issues, we speak in favour of international law. By enforcing the collective principle of international affairs, we adhere to the principle of non interference and the domestic affairs of other countries and we have great respect for cultural and civilizational diversity of our world,” the Russian Foreign minister said.
Singh tweeted after the meeting Shoigu that the two leaders had a “productive, fruitful and substantial bilateral discussions on defence cooperation” and added, “India values its special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia”.
He said in a second tweet, “India deeply appreciates Russia’s strong support for India. We hope that our cooperation will bring peace, prosperity and stability to the entire region.”
Singh also stated that he was “glad” that a “number of Agreements/Contracts/Protocols were signed pertaining to small arms and military cooperation”.
During the 2+2 Singh also 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”.
He expressed appreciation that “despite all these challenges, India-Russia defence engagements progressed in an unprecedented manner in recent times” and said he was hopeful that Russia will remain a major partner for India in these changing circumstances.
“From Ministry of Defence, we have urged for greater military-technical collaboration, advanced research, co-development and co-production of defence equipment leading to self-reliance of India. Separately, we proposed greater engagements in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean region,” he said.
One of the big-ticket defence deals between the two nations includes India’s purchase of five units of S-400 Triumf air defence system, delivery of which has already begun. The deal worth US$ 5.5 billion was signed in 2018.
Russia has been one of the largest arms exporters to India. Even as Russia’s share in India’s arms imports fell by over 50 per cent in the last five-year period compared to the previous five years (2011 – 2015). In the last 20 years India imported arms and weapons worth US$ 35 billion from Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global arms trade.