Lavrov’s visit offered India the opportunity to rejuvenate its ties with a partner that's been a bedrock of New Delhi’s foreign policy for decades.
Between friends old and new, between swiftly-changing geopolitical priorities and pandemic-driven realignments, India seems determined to chart its course forward by following a strategic balance – and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to New Delhi is the latest example of that.
Underscoring that India and Russia are tied through strategic partnership with a historic and long-lived friendship, Lavrov on Tuesday said that bilateral and political dialogue between the two nations is at its "sustainable highest" even amid Covid-19 restrictions.
“Our countries are tied through a strategic partnership and at the heart of our partnership is the long-lived friendship between our nations and proximity of our stance on relevant international issues and our friendship,” the Russian Foreign Minister said in his opening remarks during delegation-level talks with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar. "Our bilateral, political dialogue is at its sustainable highest even amid the stringent epidemiological restrictions," he added.
Lavrov, who arrived in India on Monday on a two-day visit, spoke with Dr Jaishankar on bilateral military cooperation, including the production of “state-of-the-art” weapons manufacturing by Russia in India. “We are the only country that transfers cutting-edge technologies to India,” he said. “The deepening of Russia-India military cooperation serves the national interest of both countries. At the same time, we respect the right of India to diversify in these areas.”
According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the visit provides a unique opportunity to discuss important aspects of bilateral ties, review preparations for the next India-Russia annual summit and discuss regional and international issues of mutual interest.
“This year marks the 22nd year of our strategic partnership and 12th year of our special and privileged strategic partnership. So, I am sure that many of our conversations would be conducted in that spirit as very close partners,” said Dr Jaishankar.
The top diplomats also spoke about cooperation in the peaceful use of space and in areas of rocket-building and satellite navigation. “We have confirmed our determination towards the development of military-technical cooperation,” Lavrov told a media briefing, adding there was an inter-governmental commission dealing with the subject. “It has its own plans, and the prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment on India’s territory are under discussion.”
While the joint defence production with Russia would fit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship Make-in-India programme, it could upset the United States, which since 2001 has sold some $18 billion worth of weapons to India.
Lavrov’s trip comes barely two weeks after US Secretary of State Lloyd Austin visited India and met Prime Minister Modi – with that meeting taking place against the backdrop of the first Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) summit of its leaders.
Part of the agenda during that discussion clearly overlapped during Lavrov’s summit with Indian leaders.
Dr Jaishankar and Lavrov exchanged views on vital issues of the international and regional agenda, including interaction in the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and BRICS as well as RIC (Russia India China), the Russian embassy said.
With the time-tested mechanism of the annual summit between India's prime minister and the Russian president under pressure due to the pandemic, Lavrov’s visit thus offered yet another opportunity for India to refresh and rejuvenate its equations with a country that has been a key pillar of New Delhi’s foreign policy for decades.