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India Does Balancing Act Between Russia and US as Putin Arrives on Short But Packed Visit Tomorrow

Source : News18

India Does Balancing Act Between Russia and US as Putin Arrives on Short But Packed Visit Tomorrow
India is only the second country Russian President Vladimir Putin is travelling to since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. (Sputnik/Evgeniy Paulin/Kremlin via REUTERS)



Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit on Monday, India has once again underlined that Moscow will remain its close defence partner. Government sources have said that several key agreements will be signed between the two nations during Putin’s visit in the sphere of trade, energy, culture, defence, space and technology. Of these, the crucial ones will be in the defence sector, like the production of AK-203 rifles.

The Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS) is also expected to be inked on Monday. Such agreements help facilitate access to fuel and other provisions, on a mutual basis, for the militaries when they are operating away from their home country.

Even as the United States builds pressure on India to look at more defence procurements from it, and the threat of CAATSA sanction persists due to the purchase of S-400 air defence missile system from Russia, government sources said that India will continue to exercise its strategic autonomy in defence procurements. The first of the delivery for S-400 has already started.

The other big fillip to the long-standing relationship will come in the form of the maiden 2+2 dialogue involving the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries. Russia will become the fourth country with which India holds this dialogue, the other three being Quad partners US, Japan and Australia.

Asked whether starting a 2+2 dialogue with Russia was a balancing act as Moscow has expressed reservations over the Quad and the current concept of Indo-Pacific, government sources said that the dialogue is not an afterthought. They said that, on the contrary, Russia is the most “natural partner” for a 2+2 dialogue looking at the gamut of political and defence engagements over the years.

As for Russia’s concerns on Quad, government sources said New Delhi has explained to Moscow that Quad is an issue-based cooperation between the four countries.

Interestingly, the Russian embassy in its statement announcing the maiden 2+2 dialogue said there would be a discussion on Asia-Pacific. The term ‘Asia-Pacific’ being used instead of Indo-Pacific once again highlighted the broad disagreement that the two continue to have over the term and the concept of Indo-Pacific. The Indo-Pacific is seen by the Russians as an American concept.

Even though differences remain, government sources said the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime route is an example of Indian-Russian cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. During his visit to Vladivostok in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had signed a Memorandum of Intent for connectivity in this sea route that stretches to around 10,300 km and cuts the shipping time to roughly 24 days from 40 days.

India is also investing in Russia’s Far East, yet again falling in the gamut of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Interestingly, India has extended invitations to 11 governors of Russia’s Far East for the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. Some of Russia’s Far East regions have expressed interest in Indian investment in oil and gas projects.

The total investment target of $30 billion from both sides, largely in the energy sector, by the year 2025 has been met in advance and has now been revised to $50 billion.

Despite the major outcomes expected, questions have been raised over the extremely short visit of President Putin. He will land on Monday morning and leave late evening after a dinner hosted by PM Modi. A source said that the length of the duration doesn’t matter, pointing out that India is only the second foreign visit of the Russian President since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will land late night on Sunday. He will hold a bilateral meeting with his counterpart Dr S Jaishankar followed by his participation in the 2+2 dialogue. Russian Defence Minister General Shoigu will be meeting Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh and will also participate in the 2+2 dialogue. No joint press statements have so far been announced, but a joint statement is expected to be released before President Putin leaves on Monday evening.

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