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India pitches for widening Russia ties in three geo-political theatres

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NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday pitched for widening cooperation with old strategic ally Russia across various geographical regions – Eurasia, Indo-Pacific and the Russian Far East, and the Arctic and sought Moscow’s support towards a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This message, delivered by foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla during his high-level meetings in Moscow on Wednesday, can be viewed as an attempt to address Russia’s misgivings over various groupings in the Indo-Pacific.

“An Indo-Pacific guided by norms and governed by rules, with freedom of navigation, open connectivity, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states is an article of faith for India,” Shringla said in his address at the Russian Diplomatic Academy, in a subtle message to Chinese territorial ambitions in the region. He also added: “As major powers and stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region, it is the responsibility of all stakeholders including us to ensure that the region remains peaceful and open, taking into account needs and concerns of all its inhabitants.”

Russia is crucial to all three regions (Eurasia, Indo-Pacific and the Russian Far East, and the Arctic), and India and Russia will agree much more than they will disagree on the strategic direction, the inherent and necessary multi-polarity, and the security and prosperity of these regions, the foreign secretary said, underscoring the nature of India’s geopolitical partnership with Russia.

Moscow had expressed reservations over the US Indo-Pacific vision and its discomfort with the formation of Quad (among the US, Japan, Australia and India) was not a secret. However, keeping Indian sensitivities in mind, Russia did not target India. India-Russia-Japan are also putting in place a trilateral mechanism for the Indo-Pacific region including the Russian Far-East.

Safeguarding mutual sensitivities was reflected in Shringla’s address even as he refrained from any reference to China. “The long-term convergence of interests, sensitivity to each other’s core concerns, mutual respect and trust shared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin and growing people-to-people contacts are key drivers of our bilateral partnership,” he said.

Shringla put forward suggestions for expanding counter-terror partnership and cooperation in the Afghan theatre.

The foreign secretary, who is on his maiden visit abroad in 2021 to shape this year’s annual summit, also referred to growing cooperation in traditional areas of defence, fossil fuel, nuclear energy and space sectors besides calling for stepping up a partnership in infrastructure, connectivity initiatives, and the health sector. “Phase-III trials of (Russian Covid-19 vaccine) Sputnik-V in India have commenced and I understand that significant production of Sputnik-V will be undertaken in India. We are hopeful that our joint attempts at bolstering global vaccine supplies will showcase our partnership for the benefit of the world,” he said.

There is interest in taking forward cooperation in railways, transport and logistics, civilian shipbuilding and repair, inland waterways, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, minerals, steel, chemicals, including petrochemicals, ceramics, agro-industry, timber, high technology and scientific research, according to Shringla. “Our companies are actively exploring investments in Russia in energy, minerals, infrastructure and healthcare.” An India Energy Centre will be opened in Moscow next month to further bolster energy partnership, he said.

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