Important Defence Agreements to be inked during President Putin’s visit: Ambassador Varma
By Vinay Shukla
Moscow. Even as the spectre of US CAATSA sanctions looms over significant arms contracts with Moscow, India expects the signing of “important” defence deals during President Vladimir Putin’s New Delhi visit on October 4-5 for the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In an interview with India Strategic on the eve of President Putin’s visit due October 4-5, Indian ambassador to Russia D.B Venkatesh Varma observed:
“We expect important agreements in the defence sphere to be concluded during President Putin’s visit. Our military technical cooperation is almost six decades old. We envisage continued cooperation with Russia well into the future including more active participation of Russian defence industry in the Make-In-India programme which would add a new dimension to our cooperation, not just at the governmental level but also between the private sectors of both countries.”
The emphasis on the private sector is significant, keeping in view that India needs to expand its defence industrial base, for which the state-run sector has not been enough.
Responding to the question about the effect of US CAATSA – Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act on the long-pending bilateral deals worth around USD 10 billion, including S-400 air defence missile system, 4 Grigorovich class stealth frigates (advanced Talwar class) two of which will be built in India from scratch, lease of second Akula class nuclear attack submarine, operationalisation of JV for the production of Kamov K-226T multi-utility helicopters for the armed forces, Ambassador Varma underscored:
“Defence cooperation between India and Russia is based on mutual interest and is not subject to decisions of other countries. As a matter of principle, India has consistently maintained that while it accepts UN sanctions, we are not in a position to do so with respect to unilateral sanctions.”
Ambassador Venkatesh Varma, considered one the finest Indian diplomats and an old Russia hand, took over the charge of the Embassy in Moscow only on September 10.
He expressed confidence that President Putin’s visit to India for the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit will lay the framework for further deepening of our bilateral relations in the traditional areas of cooperation but also add new dimensions to our strategic partnership which is increasingly of global significance.
India Strategic: You have been appointed as India’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation at a time when the post- WWII global order is under stress and rules of the game are being changed arbitrarily.
Under these circumstances, how you view the relations between India and Russia in perspective?
Ambassador Varma: It is an honour to be India’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation at an important phase in our bilateral relations against the backdrop of a fast changing international situation. Our historic relations with Russia have both elements of continuity and change. The Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between our countries is unique both in its scope, rationale and future potential. It rests on the fundamental pillars of our cooperation on political and strategic issues, military and security cooperation and in the field of economics, energy, transportation, industry, science and technology, cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
“In terms of rationale, both countries have a stake in the wellbeing and growth of the other. Trust and confidence at the leadership level is quite unique. President President Putin’s visit to India for the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit will lay the framework for further deepening of our bilateral relations in the traditional areas of cooperation but also add new dimensions to our strategic partnership which is increasingly of global significance.”
India Strategic: There is an impression in both New Delhi and Moscow that in the rapidly unfolding scenario their transforming relations with US, China and Pakistan are becoming a sort of irritant and eroding mutual trust.
To what extent the upcoming summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin will assuage these concerns?
Ambassador Varma: India enjoys strong and expanding relations with all the major powers. At the same time, our relations with Russia have grown from strength to strength given the inherent quality of trust, confidence and mutual interest.
“We do not expect nor accept exclusivity in our relations nor do we accept the dominance of any other power.
India Strategic: Defence and security cooperation between India and Russia has always been the main pillar of their bilateral ties in past decades and not only survived the Soviet collapse, but also further developed into a strategic partnership, which transformed India into ‘net security provider’ in IOR.
However, lately it is being challenged by the US CAATSA law, so how do you view the future of this partnership as CAATSA is here to stay?
Ambassador Varma: Defence cooperation between India and Russia is based on mutual interest and is not subject to decisions of other countries. As a matter of principle, India has consistently maintained that while it accepts UN sanctions, we are not in a position to do so with respect to unilateral sanctions.
India Strategic: Is India ready to go ahead with the signing of major defence deals with Russia, including the S-400 Triumf air-defence system, which are pending for quite some time though IGAs for them were concluded much before adoption of CAATSA?
Ambassador Varma: We expect important agreements in the defence sphere to be concluded during President Putin’s visit. Our military technical cooperation is almost six decades old.
“We envisage continued cooperation with Russia well into the future including more active participation of Russian defence industry in the Make-In-India programme which would add a new dimension to our cooperation, not just at the governmental level but also between the private sectors of both countries.
India Strategic: Although, Indo-Russian cooperation in energy, including civilian nuclear field, is expanding at somehow satisfactory pace, the overall trade and economic cooperation still remains much below the potential.
This was also noted during the latest session of Joint Commission in Moscow co-chaired by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
What measures are being taken or planned to be taken to improve the situation, can we expect the signing of some concrete agreements during Mr Putin’s India visit to address this problem?
Ambassador Varma: As agreed by leaders of both countries, one of our main objectives is to diversify our bilateral relations. Our External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj co-chaired last week the 23rd Session in Moscow of the bilateral Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation along with Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.
“This meeting paved the way for forward movement in important sectors. These include: cooperation between Indian and Russian space agencies with respect to the India’a Gaganyaan programme; taking forward our cooperation in civil nuclear energy; strengthening inter-regional cooperation; transport linkages including North-South Corridors; establishing the Green Corridor; and removing various impediments to increased India-Russia trade.
“A new Strategic Economic Dialogue will be announced. Overall, the bilateral investment target of US $ 30 billion has already been reached. Bilateral trade now has crossed the US $ 10 billion mark.
“An India-Business Summit with participation of over 100 companies from each side, will be held during the forthcoming visit of President Putin and will give a new impetus to trade and investment between the two countries. In a new innovation in our relations, talented Russian and Indian Children will represent the results of their interaction to Prime Minister Modi and President Putin during the Summit.