Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was on a visit to Moscow last week, to participate in the combined meeting of Defence Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and CIS members to commemorate the 75th anniversary of victory in the Second World War. During the visit, he also met Russian Defence Minister, General Sergei Shoigu.
This was the Defence Minister’s second visit to Moscow in recent weeks during the Covid-19 pandemic, demonstrating the importance of defence diplomacy in deepening India’s strategic interests. In June, Mr. Singh had represented India at the Russian Victory Day parade to commemorate the end of the Second World War. An Indian tri-services military contingent had marched in the parade, recalling the contribution of millions of Indian troops, including in aiding the Soviet Army that led to the Allied victory in the War.
The Defence Minister’s bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart covered a wide range of issues on how to deepen defence and strategic cooperation between India and Russia. The meeting coincided with the Indra naval exercises conducted by the Indian and Russian navies off the Straits of Malacca on 4-5 September 2020. Mr. Singh highlighted that the exercises showed the convergence of interests of India and Russia in the maritime security of the Indian Ocean region.
Russia’s full support for India’s requests for the procurement of specific weapons systems within an agreed delivery schedule was appreciated by the Defence Minister. Russia’s participation in the “Make in India” defence manufacturing programme within the vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat was discussed in the context of the proposed joint venture project in India for the manufacture of AK-203 assault rifles for infantry troops, and Russia’s decision to participate in the Aero India Exhibition to be held in February 2021. It was announced that the next meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation would be held towards the end of 2020 in India.
The Defence Minister’s participation in the SCO meeting emphasized India’s commitment to the evolution of a global security architecture, which will be open, transparent, inclusive, rules-based and anchored in international laws. These laws respected the sovereignty of States, and obliged States to refrain from unilateral aggression on other States.
In his remarks, Mr. Singh highlighted three specific issues. On Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, the Defence Minister pointed to India’s vital interests and civilizational links with the region while calling for the resolution of differences through dialogue based on mutual respect, sovereignty, and non-interference in internal affairs. He welcomed the SCO Council’s adoption of anti-terror measures to counter extremist propaganda and de-radicalization, as well as cooperation in the cyber domain to counter terrorism. The Defence Minister also had bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to discuss mutual cooperation in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
The SCO meeting provided China with an opportunity to request for a bilateral meeting between General Wei Fenghe, State Councillor and China’s Defence Minister, and the Indian Defence Minister. The two Ministers had a frank and detailed discussion during which Mr. Singh categorically conveyed India’s position on the developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) including in the Galwan valley in the Western Sector of the India-China Border Areas during the last few months. He said that Indian troops had always taken a very responsible approach towards border management, but there should be no doubt about India’s determination to protect her sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In response to the Chinese Defence Minister’s view that the two sides should work together to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible, the Defence Minister reiterated that both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders of India and China that maintenance of peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas was essential for the further development of our bilateral relations and the two sides should not allow differences to become disputes. Instead, they should resolve the ongoing situation and outstanding issues in the border areas peacefully through dialogue.
Mr. Singh made a stop-over visit to Tehran to meet his Iranian counterpart before returning to India.
Script: Amb. Asoke Kumar Mukerji,
Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations