India, Russia to expand cooperation in Central Asia, says envoy

To ink deal on logistics, naval coordination during Defence Minister’s visit

Updated - August 29, 2021 10:50 pm IST

Published - August 29, 2021 08:19 pm IST - MOSCOW

Indian Envoy in Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma during an interview with The Hindu, on August 29, 2021.

Indian Envoy in Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma during an interview with The Hindu, on August 29, 2021.

India and Russia are expecting to conclude the bilateral logistics agreement, Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS), and a Navy to Navy cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) when Russian Defence Minister Gen Sergei Shoigu visits India later this year. The two sides are also looking at expanding cooperation in Central Asia and the possibility of supplementing bilateral exercises with trilateral and multilateral ones, Indian Envoy in Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma said.

On the deal for S-400 air defence systems, the envoy in an exclusive interview to The Hindu said: “There are specific defence and national security considerations that led India to conclude the contract for the supply of S-400 systems. All I can say is that this contract will be implemented. We will do what we have to do and necessary for India to preserve and protect its national security interests.”

India is scheduled to start receiving the S-400 systems in the next few months and one team of Indian Air Force personnel have been trained in Russia and a second team is undergoing training, Russian officials stated.

Both countries are also scheduled to hold the maiden 2+2 ministerial dialogue during the visit of Gen Shoigu. On the summit meeting, he stated that dates are yet to be fixed, but is expected to take place towards the end of this year subject to the COVID situation.

Mr. Varma said that both sides were also looking at how they can cooperate in using India as a production base for exporting to third countries of Russian-origin equipment and services and will add to the Make in India programme. “Russia will remain a key defence partner for India for decades to come,” he stated.

Afghanistan crisis

The fast changing developments in Afghanistan have of course taken everyone by surprise — unexpected as to their speed, as well as their consequences — Mr. Varma said, adding that it was imperative that India and Russia adapt their policies, whatever their policies were in the past.

While a number of countries in the region and beyond are affected by the Afghan developments, India and Russia are in essence, affected even more due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalist and radical groups and the sanctuary that could be claimed by terror groups, Mr Varma said. This would impact both India and Russia and normal inter-state relations especially with respect to Central Asia, with additional threats emanating from drug trafficking, organized crime and the flow of refugees, he added.

“This could potentially up-end the very foundations of inter-state relations in the broader region,” he stated.

On August 24, Prime Minister Modi and President Putin held a 45 minute telephonic conversation which the envoy termed as the most “authoritative conversation” between the two countries on the issue.

“Both leaders agreed to set up a mechanism that would provide for quality conversations between India and Russia that would be action oriented, to align our interests in such a way that our security interests bilaterally, and our interests with regard to third countries, especially the Central Asian countries, would be protected and preserved,” Mr. Varma said. He added that India and Russia are standing together at a moment of deep crisis and are “reinvesting” in their cooperation to address common challenges.

Stating that each situation is unique in its own way, the envoy said it was important for India and Russia to adapt to new realities, step up their cooperation and to insulate and protect their national interests from the instability that is expected to radiate out of Afghanistan for some time to come. “As we belong to this region, unlike extra regional powers, India and Russia will need to work together even more than before. This is vital for protecting India’s continental security interests,” he said.

Mr. Varma, who will be retiring from service in two months after a long diplomatic career, described the transformation in the India-Russia relationship in the last couple of years as a “quiet revolution.” He said the traditional pillars of defence, nuclear, energy and space have been supplemented by India’s engagement in economic, trade, science and technology sectors and inter-regional cooperation.

“We are engaging with Russia in areas which were unthinkable in the past. Prime Minister’s Act Far East policy is a revolutionary step of huge geopolitical significance,” he added.

Read the full interview here.

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