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Transcript of Joint Presser by External Affairs Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (April 06, 2021)

April 07, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Offical Spokesperson: His Excellency, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Honourable Minister of External Affairs of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Good afternoon and warm welcome to you for the special press interaction that we have today on the occasion of the visit of His Excellency Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, to our country. We will begin with statements to the media from both Ministers. May I now request Honourable External Affairs Minister of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar, to make opening remarks.

Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister: Thank you Arindam. I am delighted to address you all at the conclusion of my talks today with my Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Of course none of you would be surprised to learn that the discussions were very warm, they were comprehensive and they were very productive.

Time-tested is a frequently used and clearly justified description of India-Russia relations. Though the world has changed in the last seven decades and there have been different governments at both ends, our ties, I am sure Minister Lavrov would agree, have remained uniquely strong and steady. And the reason for that has been our consistent ability to identify and update our shared interests. We are both cognisant of the multi-polar and rebalanced nature of international relations today. We both understand the importance of our relationship to global peace, security and stability. And, therefore, as Foreign Ministers, we work hard to deliver on that responsibility.

Much of our discussions today covered the preparations for President Putin’s visit for the Annual Summit later this year. I am sure Minister Lavrov would share my assessment that our bilateral cooperation remains energetic and forward looking. We talked about longstanding partnership in nuclear, space and defence sectors. We assessed positively our economic cooperation, noting the new opportunities in Russian Far East. We spoke of connectivity, including the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Chennai-Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor. Our rapidly expanding energy cooperation that now includes long term commitments was also on the agenda. On my part, I briefed Minister Lavrov on recent developments in India that open up new opportunities for Russian businesses in various sectors. The Atmanirbhar Bharat economic vision can facilitate a more contemporary economic relationship in the post-Covid era.

This review of our bilateral cooperation was really encouraging. We note the appetite for greater investments in each other by both countries. Russian support for our Gaganyaan programme has progressed which we deeply appreciate. Our defence sector requirements in the past year were expeditiously addressed. And in meeting the Covid challenge, our pharmaceutical collaboration has become more serious and as many of you are aware we have a Russian vaccine under discussion for production in India.

There was naturally an exchange of views and assessments on important regional and global matters. This had a particular importance because we are both members of the UN Security Council right now. We are a non-permanent member, Russia is a permanent member. Issues on which India is chairing UNSC committees came up in some detail. India has also taken over the Chair of BRICS and RIC from Russia for this year. And our common membership of the G-20, ASEAN-led forums, SCO and CICA added to the substance of our conversation.

One question on which we spent some time is the unfolding developments in and around Afghanistan. As you all know, the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process conference took place last week, I was in Dushanbe for that. There have been other discussions of a bilateral or plurilateral nature as well. Many more can be expected in the coming days. For India, what happens in Afghanistan impacts its security directly. I shared our approach that a durable peace there would require harmonising interests of all, both within and around that country. The peace process must be based on foundational principles to which we all subscribe. And a political solution should mean an independent, sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan.

There was an exchange of views on West Asia, the Gulf and Iran. This is a geography where we both have longstanding equities and our active diplomacy reflects that to great measure. Peace and stability in such a sensitive and vital region is in global interest.

I shared our view-point on the Indo-Pacific. As our Prime Minister pointed out at the Shangri-La Dialogue some years ago, contemporary challenges require countries to work together in new and different ways. Such cooperation also reflects the multi-polar and rebalanced character of global politics. India is strongly committed to ASEAN centrality and this is underlined by the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative that it has been advocating at the East-Asia summit. As we implement our Act East and beyond policy, Russia is a very important partner. Whether it is their Far East or whether it is the Chennai-Vladivostok Corridor.

In addition, of course, there was the larger backdrop of global political changes that provided a context for our talks today. As longstanding partners, we could discuss their implications with a high degree of confidence and comfort. I valued the quality of our discussions today very much. We have completed a decade of our special and privileged strategic partnership. And that certainly permeated the tenor of our discussions. We also reviewed the forthcoming high level exchanges leading up to the Annual Summit this year. Once again, Minister Lavrov, it is a great pleasure to welcome you back to New Delhi. I would request you to make your statement.

Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: Ladies and gentlemen, I share same assessment that my friend mentioned, Mr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Our talks have been very constructive, confident and useful, as it goes in our relations between Russia and India. These ties are valuable, mutually respectful and they are not subjected to political fluctuations. We noted with satisfaction that despite the pandemic, we were able to preserve the dynamic bilateral political dialogue. We both agree that this attests to the maturity and remarkable resilience of our relations that can be characterised in our documents signed at the highest level, particularly privilege strategic partnership. We focused on the content of the planned bilateral context, including at the highest level, I mean, here the visit of the President of the Russian Federation to India. I conveyed to my colleague, the message from Mr. Putin to Mr. Modi, including on these issues.

We agreed to joint efforts to overcome the declining mutual trade caused by the pandemic. We are going to build up investment according to the National programmes in our respective countries. We also discussed energy including nuclear energy, peaceful exploration of the space, transportation, infrastructure projects, including in the Russian Far East and in the Arctic. To this end, we are going to organise meeting of co-chairs as well as the scheduled meeting of the intergovernmental Russian-Indian Commission on trade and economic, scientific and technological as well as cultural cooperation.

We agreed that we need to galvanise the work on the renewed intergovernmental agreement on mutual security of investment as well as increasing the share of national currency in respective settlements. Working on the trade and economic interaction with New Delhi is one of the priorities of the Eurasian Economic Union in accordance with the agreements previously achieved. We hope to launch as soon as possible talks on the free trade area between India and Eurasian Economic Union based on mutual benefit. We discussed bilateral military cooperation including state of the art weapons manufacturing. In this strategically important area, Russia is a major foreign contractor for New Delhi. We are the only partner that indeed transfers to India, cutting edge military technologies. I'm sure that the deepening of the Russian Indian military cooperation serves national interests of both countries. At the same time we respect the right of our Indian friends to diversify its ties in this area. We are also positive about cooperation in the area, as I already mentioned, the peaceful exploration of Space in such avenues as manned programmes, rocket engine building and satellite navigation.

The exchange of views on thorny issues of today shows proximity or similarity of our stances. We discuss such issues as peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, Syrian crisis, situation around Iran's nuclear programme, situation in Yemen. We also discussed the situation in the Eurasian continent and in Asia Pacific in general, including our ties with ASEAN. Both parties highlighted the importance of preserving the central role of ASEAN in various formats established in this region. We hold in high regard, Russian Indian relationships in the international arena, including in the UN, SCO, G20, BRICS, where New Delhi is a top person. We highlighted the demand of interaction in the format, Russia-India-China, as well as the Summits of Eastern Asia. We are grateful to Indian partners for their responsible approach in international affairs, and we are grateful for the facilitation in issues that are important to us. We are satisfied by the outcomes of the talks and we wish you every success in your role as the UNSC non-permanent member, and I hope that we'll be able to deepen our multifaceted cooperation. I invited my friend and colleague to Russia, and I hope that this will take place in foreseeable future. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Offical Spokesperson: Thank you very much Excellency. I will now invite questions for the dignitaries. Unfortunately, I know there's a lot of interest, but given the time constraints, we will be limiting to two questions from the Indian media and two from the Russian media. For the first question perhaps, Rezaul Hasan Laskar from the HT.

Mr. Rezaul Hasan (Journalist, The Hindustan Times): My question is for the Russian Foreign Minister. Good afternoon, Rezaul Hasan from the Hindustan Times. In recent years and in recent times, there's been growing political trust and military cooperation between China and Russia and this has led to some speculation in some quarters about a possibility of a China-Russia military alliance. Does the foreign minister think that the two countries are heading in that direction?

Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: No. We have fixed that in our bilateral relations, adopted at the highest level in the course of the Russia-China summit, where we said that our relations are at the highest in the history. But these relations do not pursue a goal of establishing a military alliance. By the way, we've heard speculations about pro military alliance, not only regarding Russia-China relations, we also heard about such alliances allegedly being promoted such as Middle East NATO and we also heard about Asian NATO. Today we exchanged views on this and our Indian friends have the same position as we. We believe that this is counterproductive. We are interested in inclusive cooperation that is for something not against somebody.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Offical Spokesperson:
Next question to Russian journalists. Igor Zhdanov from Russia Today.

Mr. Zhdanov (Journalist, Russia Today):
Thank you. This is Zhdanov from RT. My question is to both ministers, it is on vaccine cooperation. There's a good chance that Russia Sputnik V vaccine might be approved for emergency use in India. So have you discussed maybe doing something similar about the Indian vaccine Covaxin in Russia? And on the back of this maybe a quick comment if I may from the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on current affairs, I will switch to Russian on that. How would you comment on the latest statements of highly placed Ukrainian officials and military personnel regarding Russia as the main aggressor in the Donbass conflict, how big is the risk of the Donbass conflict turning into an active phase?

Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation:
As for the vaccine, you are right in stating that we have tied cooperation with our Indian friends on this issue. The Russian fund of direct investment, signed contracts with several Indian contractors to manufacture Sputnik V vaccine, about 700-750 million doses and this is possible because of the manufacturing capacity in India. I do not exclude that further cooperation also would cover the manufacturing of the Indian vaccine in Russia; I guess that the experts are supposed to discuss these and to assess the efficiency of such a cooperation.

As for the statement of the Ukrainian government there have been a lot of analytical articles. We are concerned by this. We told this to our European colleagues as well, we are hopeful that there is an understanding of what's happening in Washington but unfortunately, the response and actions of our Western colleagues on the building up of the military infrastructure as well as the transfer of the troops to the contact line in Donbass is disappointing. Western colleagues still believe that they need to, in all ways possible support the Ukrainian authorities including their unacceptable statements and actions. Remember when President Zelensky repeatedly as well as those responsible for the Normandy contact group on Donbass, repeatedly stated that Minsk agreements are needed only to preserve sanctions of the West against Russia, or they ask for a complete revision of the Minsk agreements or they also suggest breaching the agreed format, they invite pro Ukrainian representatives into the Normandy format and the contact group. All of this is lamentable, and there is no response to these statements. There has been none from our Western colleagues. Although we see a flagrant violation of all the Minsk agreements by the Kiev and now Kiev turned from political violations to the threat of military action. Perhaps this would help to shake these friendly approach towards Ukraine from the European capitals, and they would demand that Mr. Zelensky fulfils Minsk agreements fully, for them to start through the dialogue with the Donetsk and Luhansk in actions, the Minsk agreements because he's supposed to overcome threats in the area of security, stop the shelling of the civil infrastructure that leads to the death toll among the civilians, not for the first time. And of course, they need to determine in this direction like the issue of the final status of the areas that I'm talking about. They need to settle the date for the elections, all of this is well known. Unfortunately, every time the Normandy format meetings take place, be it at the level of leaders or at the level of representatives or foreign ministry stuff, we see no proactive steps from our French and German colleagues to influence our Ukrainian colleagues. Now, it's too obvious that this needs to be done immediately.

Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister:
On the vaccines issue which was also addressed to me, we had a discussion and clearly that decision has to be taken by our regulatory authorities. And for us, were those vaccines to be made in India, it would be one more affirmation of the importance of Made in India and our own vaccine capacities. But on your other question of Covaxin, I think if my memory serves me right, so far, we have sent Covaxin perhaps to three or four countries abroad. And we would certainly like to promote both Made in India and invented in India. So, it is something I'm sure in due course, we would address. On that note, I should also share with you that in our discussions on the economic and business opportunities between India and Russia, I drew to Minister Lavrov’s attention the fact that we have a very ambitious programme called Production Linked Incentives to expand manufacturing in India in 13 designated sectors. We believe that this would be a good opportunity for Russian businesses, to look at partnerships in India because one thing is very clear that in the post-COVID world, all of us are going to be very sensitive about our supply chains. All of us would like to be much more secure about, whether it is food, whether it is health or whether it is actually the requirements of our daily economy. So, in all of this, I do see a new opportunity today for India-Russia economic collaboration.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Offical Spokesperson:
Thank you. The next question is from Indian side, Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News.

Mr. Pranay Upadhyay (Journalist, ABP News): My question is to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Sir since Moscow is taking a lead in the peace process of Afghanistan, what is your view about any future power sharing agreement where Taliban gets a greater role? Do you think that this would stabilise the situation in Afghanistan and more so being a major power in the region, is Russia inclined towards taking a role of responsibility in being a net security provider in the situation. Also, since Russia is actively involved in this region, and since you had a discussion with the Indian Foreign Minister, what are the areas of cooperation you have identified, both of you have identified as far as India-Russia cooperation in Afghanistan is concerned?

Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: As for the Taliban, the Taliban movement is part of the Afghan society. And decisions on the settlements in Afghanistan should foresee the participation of all political as well as ethnic and religious groups of Afghanistan; otherwise, it's not going to be stable. This decision has to be based on the balance of political, ethnic and religious interests, including the representation in the borders of power. Any other way that foresees the exclusion of any group from this process will not lead to the agreements that could be implementable and sustainable. All of these would be fraught with the risk of the resumption of the hostilities, which is not anybody's desire. I mean the members of the process. I will remind that the previous administration agreed with the Taliban movement, and hopefully they would be implemented. They created a window of opportunities to reach agreement between all the hostile parties, it would be sad if it breaks.

As for providing security in Afghanistan it depends primarily on whether the settlement will be achieved in a fast and efficient way. It's supposed to take into account the issue of the political settlement as well as security and safety. For many years, we've been doing a lot to strengthen the potential of the Afghan security forces, the army, we train them, we send them military purpose production, sometimes free and sometimes on easy conditions. And when Afghanistan reconciles, when the settlement of all political issues happens, the international community will be able to be more active in assisting with the strengthening of the Afghanistan’s security forces. We should also take into account the regional context, we would welcome along with the domestic settlement of Afghanistan, and we would welcome the consultations and talks on how to reinforce such agreements with the confidence building measures, strengthening of security, with the involvement of the neighbours of Afghanistan. We have similar positions with India. We always say that neighbours and all powerful actors in the region should set up conditions for the Afghanistani population to agree domestically. And as for the involvement of external actors, the best way here is to advocate the Moscow format. We brought together several times the participants of the format. These are not only neighbours of Afghanistan, but all Central Asia countries India, Pakistan, China, Iran, the USA and the Russian Federation. We stand ready to hold respective consultations and meetings, if need be, if it is found appropriate by all of the countries that I've just enumerated. I hope that this would give an impetus to the Afghani talks that started in the capital of Qatar, Doha, but it was faced by grave problems and was suspended. I'll remind that there are number of factors that we need to sort out to understand how to further settle the conflict in terms of our external contribution in setting up all the necessary conditions. We agree with Minister Jaishankar that our representatives on Afghanistan who keep tight contacts regularly.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Offical Spokesperson:
Next question, to the Russian Federation, Leila Turayanova from TASS.

Ms.Leila Turayanova (Journalist, TASS): The first question is to you, Minister Lavrov, you mentioned earlier that US is applying pressure on India against military technical cooperation with Russia. Did this make the implementation of the existing agreements in the process of negotiations on new contracts more difficult? Is India considering the possibility of acquiring additional S 400 regiments from Russia despite their threat of US sanctions?

Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: Right, in fact, it wasn't me who stated that the US exercises pressure on India, but any other country that wants to sign agreements with Russia on the delivery of weapons that has such contracts. The USA says this overtly, we all well know this, but we also know the reciprocal reaction, the response of India. We did not discuss these statements from the USA. Instead, we confirmed that we are going to deepen our military cooperation. We have intergovernmental committee on the military technical cooperation that has its own plans. We also discuss the prospect of an additional manufacturing of the Russian military equipment in India within the concept Made in India and within the concept of the independent India. So here, I didn't feel any fluctuations or changes from our Indian partners and friends.

Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister: I think the Minister has answered your question, which was we didn't get into any specific discussions. That is a responsibility of a different body which is headed by our Defence Ministers, which is due to meet at the end of the year.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Offical Spokesperson:
Thank you Honourable Ministers. This concludes the press interaction session. I thank you all for being here in person. Bye.

DISCLAIMER: This has the approximate translation of remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Original remarks were delivered in Russian.
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