Inside the white tent on the rear lawns of the Taj Exotica hotel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Russian, “stariya droog luchhey novikh dhwukh (an old friend is better than two new ones)”, and President Vladimir Putin smiled and officials clapped. The message was not lost on anyone.
For, three weeks ago, Russia had conducted its first-ever military exercise with Pakistan, days after the terrorist attack in Uri, in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. India had conveyed its concerns about the joint exercises at least twice over the last few weeks.
But on Saturday afternoon, after two hours of talks between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin, there were no signs of disappointment on the Indian side.
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The Prime Minister not only announced a slew of high-value defence deals with Russia, but he also appreciated Russia’s understanding and support for India’s actions to fight cross-border terrorism. This was a clear reference to the surgical strikes across the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir conducted by India on September 29, which New Delhi has described as “counter-terrorist operations”.
“Russia’s clear stand on the need to combat terrorism mirrors our own. We deeply appreciate Russia’s understanding and support of our actions to fight cross-border terrorism, that threatens our entire region. We both affirmed the need for zero tolerance in dealing with terrorists and their supporters,” Modi said, as Putin listened.
Putin, who spoke for about seven minutes, made a reference to the “fight against terrorism” at the fag end of his statement. “It goes without saying that we continue our substantive dialogue on the entire international agenda, where India’s and Russia’s stances are very close or matching. One of our priority issues is combating terrorism together,” he said.
The joint statement indicated the “commonality of positions”, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said, as he read out excerpts during the post-talks briefing. The statement said that the leaders strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and emphasised the necessity of comprehensive international collaboration in order to ensure its eradication.
“India and Russia recognise the threat posed by terrorism, and believe that the full implementation of the relevant UNSC resolutions, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy without application of any double standards or selectivity will be instrumental in countering this challenge,” the statement said, alluding to the UNSCR 1267 sanctions committee, which proscribes Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
This statement also indicated Russia’s support to the listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar, which has been put on technical hold by China.
“They stressed the need to deny safe havens to terrorists and the importance of countering the spread of terrorist ideology as well as radicalisation leading to terrorism, stopping recruitment, preventing travel of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters, strengthening border management and having effective legal assistance and extradition arrangements. Furthermore, stressing the need to have a strong international legal regime built on the principle of ‘zero tolerance for direct or indirect support of terrorism’, both sides called upon the international community to make sincere efforts towards the earliest conclusion of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT),” the statement said.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has urged his BRICS counterparts to support the adoption of the CCIT.
Jaishankar, while providing a flavour of the discussions between Modi and Putin, said, “The restricted talks (which took place between the two leaders, accompanied by their close aides and interpreters) did cover Uri and support that Russia has given. The Indian side expressed their appreciation for the unequivocal support, and on their position on terrorism.” The two leaders, he said, were going to have detailed talks on the issue over lunch.
“We are very satisfied with the (Russian) response,” he said, talking about Uri and the post-Uri actions. He also pointed out that the two countries have “longstanding mutual trust” on issues of “core interests”. On whether the Russian president expressed support for the surgical strikes, the foreign secretary said, “If you put 2 plus 2 together, you will get the desired number.”
Jaishankar, when asked about the military ties between Russia and Pakistan, said, “We trust Russia completely, Russia will not do anything which is against India’s interest. Russia understands India’s interests, and there was complete meeting of minds on this.” Pressed again, he said, “I am talking about the important relationship here, that between India and Russia.”
The two sides moved on a range of areas, and signed 16 agreements. They signed defence deals including the purchase of missile systems and frigates, and joint production of helicopters. India will buy S-400 Triumf air defence systems at a cost of over $ 5 billion, and the two countries will collaborate in making four state-of-the-art frigates, besides setting up a joint production facility for Kamov helicopters. The other important deal is for four Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) guided-missile stealth frigates.
The two leaders also dedicated Unit 2 of the Kudankulum nuclear power plant, and witnessed the foundation-laying of its Units 3 and 4. The remaining deals covered trade and investment, hydrocarbons, space and smart cities.
Modi, who gave a 10-minute statement on the talks, said, once again with a comment in Russian, “Indiayi Russia — rooka ab rookoo wa stevtaloy badushiya (India and Russia — together to a bright future).”