President Putin and Prime Minister Modi met on the margins of the East Asia Summit in Singapore and the G20 in Buenos Aires. The personal chemistry remains intact, as evidenced by their warm embrace in Singapore. A Russian journalist queried President Putin on its significance; his response was that they were friends and such a greeting is normal among friends. President Putin reverted to this theme at an international investment seminar in Moscow (just before the G20 summit), when he talked about “really good constructive relations with India” and his “friendly personal ties with Prime Minister Modi”, adding that it was largely thanks to his efforts that bilateral relations are moving forward in many fields.
Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Dr Rajiv Kumar led a delegation to Russia for the first meeting of the Strategic Economic Dialogue that the Indian and Russian leaders agreed on at their informal summit in Sochi (May 2018), as an addition to the many already-existing bilateral economic dialogue mechanisms. The idea was to give a strategic direction to the broad-basing of the bilateral economic engagement.
Traditional defence cooperation was flagged by the Russia visit of India’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba. A Russian announcement before the visit said that a contract had been signed for the construction of four stealth frigates for the Indian Navy, of which the first two will be constructed in Russia. The hull of the third would be Russian and the rest would be constructed in India. The fourth would be fully constructed in India.
Joint counter-terrorism/anti-insurgency military drills “Indra-2018” were conducted in Uttar Pradesh from November 19 to 28. Naval joint exercises (also Indra-2018) will be conducted in December 2018.
It should be noted that the Russian armed forces also had joint counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency military drills “Druzhba-2018” (Friendship-2018) with the Pakistan Army, focusing on operations in the hilly tracts of Nowshera District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the second half of October. Druzhba-2018 is an annual exercise since 2016. Another Russia-Pakistan defence interaction was the visit to Karachi port of a group of Russian naval ships, led by a “large anti-submarine ship”. The program of the “unofficial visit” was said to include “social events” with the Pakistan Navy, and the attendance by the Russian sailors at the international defence exhibition IDEAS-2018. Refuelling, replenishment of victuals and shore leave for the crew were envisaged.
India will have to factor this “new normal” of Russia’s South Asia engagement into its relations with Russia.
November 29, 2018