WELCOMING PRIME Minister Narendra Modi to Sochi, Russia President Vladimir Putin Monday emphasised on “defence cooperation” between the two countries — at a time when the US is moving to target Russian tie-ups in the sector.
Stressing that Modi’s visit for an informal bilateral summit in Bocharev Creek would give a fresh impetus to ties, Putin said, “Our defence ministries maintain very close contacts and cooperation. It speaks about a very high strategic level of our partnership.”
The two leaders also reiterated the significance of longstanding partnership in the military, security and nuclear energy fields and welcomed the ongoing cooperation in these areas, a statement from the Indian side said.
Ahead of the summit, sources had indicated that the adverse impact of US sanctions against Russia — under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) — on defence ties with India may come up during the conversation between Modi and Putin. India and Russia are currently discussing an S-400 air defence system deal.
According to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, the two leaders agreed that the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia is an important factor for global peace and stability.
It said that they shared the view that India and Russia have an important role to play in contributing to an “open and equitable world order”. In this regard, they recognised each other’s roles as major powers with common responsibilities for maintaining global peace and stability, the statement said.
They also agreed on the importance of building a “multipolar world order”, and decided to intensify consultation and coordination with each other, including on the Indo-Pacific Region — an apparent reference to an increasingly assertive China in the maritime domain.
Modi and Putin also agreed to continue working together through multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, SCO, BRICS and G-20.
Modi said the strategic partnership between India and Russia has now been elevated into a “special privileged strategic partnership”, which is a “very big achievement”.
“I am grateful to President Putin who invited me for an informal meeting and hence, in the long friendship of ours, this is a new aspect that has been attached to our relationship. You have added a new aspect of informal summit in the bilateral relationship which I think is a great occasion and creates trust,” he said.
Recalling his first visit to Russia with the then prime minister A B Vajpayee in 2001, Modi said Putin was the first world leader whom he met after becoming the chief minister of Gujarat.
“In my political career also, Russia and you (Putin) are very significant… as the chief minister of Gujarat, it was my first meeting with a foreign leader. Hence, the beginning of my international relations started from you and Russia,” Modi said.
“Since then, it has been 18 years, I have got several opportunities to meet you, to deliberate upon issues, and try to take the relations of India and Russia forward,” he said.
Modi also thanked Russia for playing a major role in helping India get a permanent membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an eight-nation grouping which aims at military and economic cooperation between member states. The next SCO summit is scheduled to take place in Qingdao in China on June 9-10.
“We are working together on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa),” Modi said while congratulating Putin for becoming President for the fourth time.
Putin hailed the “joint activities” of the two countries in the international arena, in particular within the United Nations, BRICS and the SCO. He said that last year there was a considerable increase in mutual trade, which saw increase of more than 17 per cent this year.
On terrorism, the MEA statement said, “Both leaders expressed their concern over terrorism and radicalisation, and their determination to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. In this context, they endorsed the importance of restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan in an atmosphere free from the threat of terrorism, and agreed to work together towards achieving this objective.” This is important since Russia and Pakistan have started military exercises and defence cooperation in the recent past, which has not gone down well with Delhi.
Modi and Putin also discussed “national development plans and priorities” — similar to what the Prime Minister and Chinese President Xi Jinping had discussed in Wuhan in April.
They further agreed to institute a Strategic Economic Dialogue between NITI Aayog and Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development for greater synergy in trade and investment. The two sides also pointed to expanding cooperation in the energy sector and welcomed the arrival of the first consignment of LNG next month under a long-term agreement between Gazprom and GAIL.
Russia’s official Tass news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that the talks were “very intense.” “I am confident that the ongoing informal contacts between the leaders of Russia and India will be useful and will help define the further guidelines for our development and strategic partnership,” Lavrov said.
After the informal summit, Modi and Putin went on a boat ride from Bocharev Creek to Olympic Park, with the two leaders conversing in English without interpreters.
“Boat ride on the Black Sea! PM @narendramodi and Russian President #Putin had plenty to discuss as they sail together from Bocharev Creek to Olympic Park in #Sochi,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
Modi and Putin also visited Sirius Educational Centre, set up on the initiative of the Russian President to identify, develop and provide support for children who excel in technical creativity, art, the natural sciences and sport.
Interacting with more than 700 students, Modi said, “I was with my friend for the whole day today. When he spoke about the kids (of the centre) he was emotionally involved. I saw dreams in his eyes. I saw a different person. I saw a Putin who was different from the president.”
(with PTI inputs from Sochi)