As President Pranab Mukherjee took part in the Russian military parade in Moscow alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany, India — for the first time — was represented at the parade with an Indian Army contingent, the Grenadiers.
While the Western community, including the US, Europe, Canada and Australia, boycotted the celebrations in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine, New Delhi has chosen to stand with Moscow at this point.
While India’s presence has raised some eyebrows in the Western diplomatic community, the Indian strategic establishment says that New Delhi has been represented previously as well — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the 60th anniversary in 2005 and Mukherjee, in his earlier avatar as external affairs minister, had attended the 50th anniversary.
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Officials underline the fact that this should not be seen as an endorsement of Russian actions in Ukraine, since India did not support Russia at the United Nations on the issue.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran told The Sunday Express, “India’s presence demonstrates that it is an enduring relationship going back several decades. Why should it be a surprise, given that we have good relations with Russia?”
He added that New Delhi’s relationship with Moscow is “very, very critical”, especially because of their defence cooperation.
Former Indian ambassador to Ukraine V B Soni said, “I think the West wants us to play politics. But India and Russia have a special relationship. For us, they are a strategic ally, and we should play a balanced role. I don’t see any contradiction in us participating in the Victory Day celebrations.”
Nearly 10,000 soldiers, including an Indian Army contingent and China’s People’s Liberation Army, took part in the parade at the iconic Red Square.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Raul Castro of Cuba, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma of South Africa also attended the event.
P Stobdan, an expert on central Asia who also served in Kyrgyzstan as the Indian envoy, said, “We have an ambivalent position. Pakistan has become too close to Russia. So, we are trying to balance with the Russians. Russia is too important for us. Imagine if Russia, China and Pakistan develop a nexus — it will be a big price for us and our strategic interests.”
Meanwhile, a Western diplomat in New Delhi told The Sunday Express, “We have time and again raised concerns with the Indian government (about Russia’s stance on Ukraine). But it is not our place to tell the Indian establishment whether or not to attend the event.”
The parade at Red Square showcased cutting edge weapons such as the next-generation Armata T-14 tank and advanced military aircraft.
After the parade, all heads of state who were present, including Putin and Mukherjee, walked down from Red Square to the Kremlin, waving to the crowd.
The 70th anniversary celebrations stand in contrast to the festivities a decade ago, when Putin hosted leaders of the US, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.