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

About the Author

Born in 1955, Ambassador Raghavan holds a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in Physics and a B.E. in Electronics & Communications Engineering. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1979. From 1979 to 2000, he had diplomatic assignments in USSR, Poland, United Kingdom, Vietnam and South Africa, interspersed with assignments in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. From 2000 to 2004, he was Joint Secretary in the Indian Prime Minister's Office dealing with Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Energy, Space, Defence and National Security. Thereafter, he was Ambassador of India to Czech Republic (2004 - 2007) and to Ireland (2007 - 2011).

He was Chief Coordinator of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi (March 2012) and Special Envoy of the Government of India to Sudan and South Sudan (2012-13). Ambassador Raghavan conceptualized and piloted the creation of the Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in MEA, which implements and monitors India’s economic partnership programs in developing countries, with an annual budget of $1-1.5 billion. He headed DPA in 2012-13. From March 2013 to January 2014, he oversaw the functioning of the Administration, Security, Information Technology and other related Divisions of MEA. Since October 2013, he was also Secretary [Economic Relations] in MEA, steering India’s bilateral and multilateral external economic engagement. Ambassador Raghavan retired from the Indian Foreign Service in January 2016, after serving from 2014 as Ambassador of India to Russia. Since September 2016, he is Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India.