Script by Indrani Talukdar, Independent Foreign Affairs Analyst
Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Russia on 17-18 February. This visit is important as it took place when each country is trying to come back to normalcy after the pandemic. It is also significant because last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin could not visit India to attend the 20th Annual Summit. However, the strength of the strategic partners hasn’t gone unnoticed during the pandemic with the communication channels open, including the high-level visit of the Indian defence minister last year as well as the virtual meets between the heads of the states of the two countries under the platforms such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) etc. The two countries also agreed last year to cooperate on the Covid vaccine and the cooperation is accelerating in this field.
The foreign secretary’s visit underscored discussions on various pressing issues impacting bilaterally and globally. Bilaterally, the two countries touched upon the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor and on the untapped bilateral trade which stood at $10-11 billion till 2019. They stressed their aspiration to increase trade and economic turnover by expanding cooperation in traditional and high-tech spheres. There was the discussion on the other energy and investment proposals and defence cooperation that were signed between the two countries during the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in 2019. One of the many agreements that the two countries had signed during the 2019 visit is near to fulfilment, the delivery of the S-400 missile systems. New Delhi is expecting to receive them. The Indian delegation briefed the Russian side on India’s priorities during its UNSC tenure as India will hold the non-permanent member chair this year. The parties also discussed the BRICS summit that is scheduled for the second half of 2021 and which will be chaired by India. They discussed a range of issues pertaining to Russian-Indian interaction, including the schedule of the upcoming political contacts.
During the visit, the Indian foreign secretary met his counterpart Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They discussed a wide range of issues of the bilateral and international agendas including Afghanistan and cooperation in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and in the area of COVID-19 vaccines. The two ministers also discussed the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister for the Inter-Governmental Commission with the Indian Minister for External Affairs. They talked about the visits of the army and naval chiefs of the two countries as well. It seems that a large number of exchanges are on the cards for the India-Russia relationship. At the meeting, Mr Lavrov emphasized the importance he attached to the special privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.
Mr Shringla also met the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. The two leaders noted the similarity of approaches by Russia and India to pressing global and regional issues, as well as stressed the intention of the two countries to continue coordination of efforts at international and regional platforms, including the UN, G20, BRICS, SCO, RIC and EAEU. India reiterated its desire to work more closely with Russia and cooperate in the Indo-Pacific region. For India, Russia’s position in the Indo-Pacific is important for the peace and stability of the region. India is keen on engaging Russia along with the ASEAN, South East Asia and under organisations like the ASEAN regional forum and the East Asia summit.
Overall, the visit could be termed as successful and significant as it determined the vectors to develop the strategic partnership between the two countries for 2021. It also gave a chance to take stock of the various aspects of the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia. The visit has kept the contacts at high levels of government on track. It will further add momentum to an already vibrant and strong relationship which has “gone from strength to strength” as the foreign secretary reiterated.