A week after the 2+2 dialogue with the US, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj heads on a two-day visit to Moscow for a crucial meeting that will firm up agenda and deliverables for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi in October.
During the two-day visit starting September 13, Swaraj will co-chair the 23rd India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Technical & Economic Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov. The two will hold talks on an entire spectrum of diplomatic, strategic and economic issues that impinge on India-Russia ties.
“The overarching thrust of Swaraj’s visit will to be to reassure Moscow that Russia remains pivotal to India’s defence and strategic interests despite New Delhi’s expanding defence and strategic ties with Washington,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief of India and World magazine. “It’s not about balancing US and Russia. India’s relationship with the US and Washington flows from different histories and will follow separate trajectories. It’s part of New Delhi’s diplomacy of multi-alignment,” he said.
The 2+2 talks between the foreign and defence ministers of India and US were closely scrutinized among top political-diplomatic circles in Moscow amid mounting anxieties in Russia about New Delhi’s deepening strategic connect with Moscow. In this backdrop, Swaraj is expected to reassure her Russian interlocutors that the growing ties with the US and other major power centres are not at the cost of special and privileged strategic partnership forged and cemented between India and Russia. “This was the key message Prime Minister Naarendra Modi had conveyed to President Putin during their first-ever informal summit meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi in May, and will be reinforced by Swaraj in Moscow,” said Mr Chand.
All eyes will be on discussions between India and Russia over the purchase of S-400 system, which could potentially attract the US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
At the 2+2 talks in New Delhi, Swaraj had expressed hope that the US will not act against India’s long-term interests, indicating that the two sides are proactively exploring possibility of a waiver for India to buy S-400 system. In New Delhi, both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary James Mattis had conveyed that the US understands India’s need to continue with its Russian legacy in defence platforms. What it adds up is that the US remains open to the possibility of granting India a waiver for purchasing the S-400 missile in view of India’s growing profile in Washington’s strategic calculus.
Besides S-400, the two sides are also expected to discuss acquisition of naval frigates and other weapons from Russia. These defence deals could be unveiled during Putin’s visit to India in the first week of October.
Plans for scaling up bilateral economic relations will figure prominently in the talks. India-Russia bilateral trade is hovering around $8 billion, which is way below the potential and does not reflect the scale of strategic partnership between India and Russia. In this regard, the two sides are expected to finalise plans for a high-profile meet of CEOs of India and Russia during Putin’s visit.