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Russian, Indian summit to discuss Asia Pacific, Afghanistan

December 06, 2021
The S-400 surface-to-air missile system at Hmeimim airbase in Syrian province of Latakia (Dec 16, 2015)
The S-400 surface-to-air missile system at Hmeimim airbase in Syrian province of Latakia (Dec 16, 2015)

MOSCOW/NEW DELHI — A Russian, Indian summit held in New Delhi, Monday, will be discussing the latest development in Asia Pacific, Afghanistan, and bilateral relations will see the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussing “wider initiatives to develop the bilateral relations and to enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries," the Russian News Agency (TASS) said.

"Enhancing the Russian-Indian partnership through increasing trade volume, enhancing cooperation in the fields of energy, investment, space and defense, establishing joint companies, and producing COVID-19 vaccines, will all benefit both countries," Putin confirmed.

On his part, the Aide of President Putin, Yury Ushakov, said that the Russian-Indian Summit would discuss international issues, and the joint action in the framework of G20, BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in addition to strategic stability, fight against terrorism, and the current situation in Asia Pacific, and Afghanistan.

Both sides will sign 10 agreements at the end of their discussion in the fields of investment, space, culture, and trade exchange, Ushkov added.

In the same context, (TASS) quoted the Russian ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev, as saying that "the talk about India's distance from Russia towards the West is not based on reality," stressing that the two countries are on a greater degree of rapprochement than ever before.

He stressed the Russian support for India's request for permanent membership in the UN Security Council, and their positions on issues of strategic stability. President Putin is scheduled to return to Moscow later Monday to participate in a video conference with his US counterpart Joseph Biden, which will be held on Tuesday evening.

Visits by Russian presidents to India always invoke a sense of nostalgia. The Moscow-Delhi relationship dates back to the Cold War era and it has been strong ever since. This "all-weather" partnership is one of the success stories of global diplomacy, and a high mark for Putin and Modi to live up to when they meet in Delhi on Monday.

The growing India-US relations is one irritant that has loomed large over Delhi-Moscow ties, more so in the past decade. Moscow largely overlooked such irritants even though its own relations with Washington steadily deteriorated in recent years. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chose to speak openly when India joined the Quad — an alliance involving the US, Japan and Australia.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, says the new geopolitical realities pose a "potential threat to the India-Russia relationship". In this context, Mr Putin's visit is important to uphold the special relationship. "I think for Russia, the objective in this case, is to reinforce the importance of Moscow's relations with New Delhi, even as the geopolitical signposts suggest otherwise," Kugelman added.

The countries have several areas where they can and will look to cooperate —Afghanistan is one of them. It will most definitely be part of the discussion as Delhi tries to stay relevant in Afghanistan. Pakistan, India's neighbor and archrival, now has better strategic depth in Afghanistan as it appears to have formed an informal alliance with Russia, Iran and China.

Moscow can help Delhi recover the lost ground in Afghanistan as the two have shared concerns about the future of the country.

The showpiece of the visit is likely to be the delivery of the Russia-made S-400 missile defense system to India. It's is one of the most sophisticated surface-to-air defense systems in the world. It has a range of 400km (248 miles) and can shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously, aiming two missiles at each one.

The system gives India crucial strategic deterrence against China and Pakistan, and that is the reason why it went ahead with the order despite threats of US sanctions.

Washington has put several Russian firms under sanctions. The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa) was introduced in 2017 to target Russia, Iran and North Korea with economic and political sanctions. It also prohibits any country from signing defence deals with these nations. While the deal may create tensions between the US and India, Moscow appears to be satisfied with Delhi's stand.

It will be interesting to see how India balances ties with the two superpowers under the shadow of the S-400 deal. Indian diplomats feel the decision to buy S-400 also upholds India's famed practice of "strategic autonomy", adding that the US should respect that.

Russia will also try to boost its defense export to India and some major deals could be announced on Monday. However, commercial trade between the two countries has remained far below their potential. Bilateral trade in 2019 (pre-pandemic levels) stood at $11bn and it was skewed in Russia's favor as it exported goods and services worth $7.24bn, according to a report from the Indian government. In comparison, India-US bilateral goods and services trade stood at $146bn in the same period.

Russia and India have now set a target of reaching $30bn in bilateral trade by the end of 2025. They will look to diversify their portfolio and go beyond energy and minerals. Education, cyber security, agriculture, railways, pharmaceuticals, and clean energy are some of the other areas they are likely to focus on.

India's decision to give $1bn line of credit to businesses to invest in Russia's Far East region will also help boost trade between the countries. Talks are also expected on the proposed Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor. The route will open more business frontiers.

Talks over a free trade agreement between India and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union are also likely to progress. If the deal happens, it will help businesses move goods easily between the two regions. "As long as trade, defense deals stay relevant, the two nations will find a way to sort out their geopolitics differences," Kugelman said. — Agencies


December 06, 2021
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