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Transcript of Special Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on 21st India-Russia Annual Summit (December 06, 2021)

December 07, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here with us at this late hour. This is a special media briefing on the occasion of the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit, for which the President of Russia, His Excellency, Mr. Vladimir Putin is here in New Delhi. In fact, the talks are still going on as we speak. But given the lateness of the hour, we thought we would have an interaction with you. For this we're really privileged to have with us Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary sir, from the Ministry of External Affairs. We are also joined with us by our ambassador to Russia Shri Pavan Kapoor, on my right here. We also have on my left, Dr. Adarsh Swaika, Joint Secretary in the Eurasia division of the ministry. I would request Foreign Secretary sir to say a few initial words, and then we'll open it up for some questions.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Namaskar and good evening, and thank you for bearing with us so late in the evening. We wanted to make sure that the talks were concluded before we started our briefing. As you know, the President of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin is on a brief working visit to India. He is here in the context of the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit. As you're aware, this is President Putin's second visit out of Russia since the COVID pandemic began. The only other visit he has undertaken was a brief visit to Geneva for the Russia-US summit that he had with President Biden. The fact that President Putin has decided to visit India for our annual summit exceptionally is an indication of the importance he attaches to the bilateral relationship and of course, his personal rapport with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji. You're also aware that President Putin had conferred Russia's highest civilian award on the Prime Minister in 2019.

The visit of President Putin is short, but nonetheless highly productive, highly substantive. There were excellent discussions between the two leaders. And much of this will be reflected in the outcome document that is expected to be issued shortly. The visit concluded in a joint statement titled ‘India-Russia Partnership for Peace, Progress and Prosperity’. The joint statement captures the state and future potential of our relationship. In all, record number of 28 agreements or MOUs were concluded during this visit. These agreements were both government to government as well as business to business including involving our public sector units in both countries. The agreements cover a very wide range of sectors including trade, energy, culture, intellectual property, accountancy, cyber-attacks in the banking sector, manpower, geological exploration survey, education, etc. India and Russia have also signed a programme of cooperation in the field of Defence for the next 10 years (2021 to 2031). The diversity of agreements and MOU signed today shows the multifaceted nature of our bilateral partnership. We will be sharing the joint statement and the list of agreements concluded with you shortly.

The Prime Minister and President Putin held in depth discussions on strengthening our bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the spirit of our special and privileged strategic partnership. Both leaders noted that the extent of our bilateral cooperation in fighting the COVID pandemic was significant. In particular in the areas of vaccines and humanitarian assistance, it would be recalled that fairly early in the COVID pandemic, India had supplied COVID related medicines to 25 regions in over 60 hospitals of Russia. In the same spirit of solidarity, Russia supported our efforts to fight the second wave of the pandemic. We'll also recall that President Putin spoke to Prime Minister Modi on the 28th of April this year, after which there was extensive Russian support and solidarity in the form of the supply of concentrators, medicines and so on and so forth.

Prime Minister thanked President Putin for the welfare of the Indian community in Russia, especially during the COVID pandemic, particularly for the 15,000 Indian students resident in Russia. Both leaders discussed the need for mutual recognition of vaccine certification to enable easier travel of our citizens to each other's countries. Enhancing bilateral trade and investments figured prominently in the talks. This year, we have noticed an encouraging trend of growth in our trade compared to last year when there was a downturn owing to the COVID pandemic. Obviously, I think both sides are looking forward to continued increase in the trade and investment trajectory. Some very ambitious targets have been set. And we are I think, well on our way to achieving those both in the trade and investment side. There was stock of how to enhance our trade and economic cooperation, including through long term procurement of essential commodities, elimination of trade barriers, strengthening inter regional linkages, bolstering connectivity, including through the International North South transport corridor and the Chennai Vladivostok Eastern maritime corridor. These two initiatives are very important and special initiatives. We are happy to speak more about them, as we have an interactive session following this statement.

Also on the trade investment side, I think there are some very specific plans which include long term cooperation in the areas of inland waterways, civilian ship building, fertilizer, coking coal, steel, skilled manpower, essentially, what we're looking at is long term arrangements whereby some of the essential commodities that we need from Russia are available on some sort of arrangement that could be to our mutual benefit. Cooperation in coking coal, for example, has emerged as an important area of cooperation. In the last few years, we have signed an MOU in October with Russia, for coking coal for the steelmaking industry in India. We have recently entered into short term contracts for fertilizers. We are looking at long term arrangements in both these areas, including also in other areas of energy that is of interest to both sides.

There was a discussion on follow up to cooperation in the Russian Far East. You will recall that Prime Minister had visited Vladivostok in 2009 for the last annual summit, where he was also a guest of honour at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. We know that the delegation from the Government of Gujarat is visiting Russia in order to invite the governors of Russian Far East for the vibrant Gujarat summit in January 2022. There are a number of other areas of cooperation there which are progressing. And I think the leaders had an opportunity to take stock of that. There was also discussion in detail about our cooperation in the strategic area of energy. As you know, we are already importing crude oil and we have a long term contract for gas supplies with Russia. I think we have expressed interest in further investments in the oil and gas sectors in each other's countries, as well as the area of petrochemicals. There are some specific projects which are on the anvil and I think that will significantly enhance our two way investments, our cooperation, very important strategic cooperation areas civil nuclear energy and space was also discussed and both sides felt it was progressing well. We looked at what could be the next steps in all of these areas of very important cooperation. Cultural cooperation, people to people ties came up for discussion, we hope to further enhance this cooperation with the signing of a cultural exchange programme for 2021-24. We are also looking at intensifying our Buddhist links with Russia, there are apparently 15 million Buddhists in Russia and this community is keen on looking at India for pilgrimages, other areas of interest, so that cultural cooperation, and that connect is also of interest to both countries.

The President Putin and the Prime Minister exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest. They decided to continue close consultation and coordination between India and Russia on the situation in Afghanistan, including for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan with an inclusive government that represents all sections of society. Both sides were also very clear that Afghanistan territory should not be used for sheltering training or planning, financing any acts of terrorism. There were, of course, concerns over the issue of drugs and other concerns that could emanate from Afghanistan. It was felt that humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan was important.

There was a lot of emphasis on the issue of counterterrorism. I think both sides were clear that this is an area of common interest, as of course, you know, similarity views and all issues of regional and global importance, but in particular, I think counterterrorism was mentioned and discussed, and I think you will find that there was fairly a joint sense on how to deal with terrorist entities such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-taiba and other entities that are functioning in our neighbourhood.

During discussions on multilateral cooperation, the Prime Minister conveyed his personal appreciation to President Putin for his participation in the high level segment on maritime security that India hosted under his presidency of the UN Security Council in the month of August. President Putin confirmed Russia's continued support for the permanent membership of India in a reformed and expanded UN Security Council. He also acknowledged and thanked India for its support for Russia’s observership, both in NAM as well as the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

The summit was preceded by a bilateral meeting between our defence ministers and our foreign ministers, and the convening of the intergovernmental commission on military and military-technical cooperation matters. And more importantly, we held the first 2+2 dialogue at the level of foreign and defence ministers, this morning. It was very substantive meeting with very, very extensive exchanges on areas of common interests that could encompass both regional and global issues. And I think, both sides appreciate the opportunity for this fairly candidate exchange on views that seem to reflect a great deal of commonality in our thinking and our positions on various matters that were discussed.

The 2+2 dialogue also allowed exchanges on areas that we had an interest in our neighbourhood such as Afghanistan and other international hotspots. On the COVID 19 pandemic, I think the inadequacy of existing multilateral systems to respond to threats in an integrated and networked world was certainly discussed and both sides were on the same page. Ministers agreed that the 2+2 dialogue helped in exchanging perspectives on important issues. Russian defence and foreign ministers invited their counterparts our Raksha Mantri and External Affairs Minister to visit Russia for the next 2+2 dialogue next year. The invitation was accepted and dates will be decided through diplomatic channels.

As you can imagine, very extensive cooperation extended to acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation signed between India and then Soviet Union. Also two decades of the declaration of strategic partnership, this was in 2000, when President Putin had visited India that the strategic partnership was established. It's been two decades since then. Just to sum up, very positive trajectory of trade and investment relationship, new drivers of economic growth, such as long term sourcing and of course, investment cooperation, areas like fertilizers, coking coal, gas were certainly identified as possible areas of mutual interest. I think there was a sense that Russian companies could enhance their involvement in 13 key sectors of the production linked incentive scheme of the Government of India under our Atmanirbhar Bharat programme and ‘Make in India’ initiatives. There was a greater intensity of inter-regional dialogue on economic cooperation between our states and regions of Russia, I did mention about the Vibrant Gujarat initiative involving the Russian Far East as an example. There was of course, very important development in the signing of the military cooperation programme for the next 10 years. We also concluded the joint production of the AK-203 rifles as you know, this has been under discussion for some time this agreement was also concluded to satisfaction, it is another example of joint manufacturing under the Make in India programme, greater involvement of Russia in investing in India jointly with Indian companies.

The International North South corridor, as I mentioned, provides a very, very cost effective, faster, multimodal transportation between Russia, Central Asia, Iran and India using the Chabahar port. And that connectivity is under discussion between the two sides as well as our other partners, including Iran and Central Asian states. There was appreciation on the Space Programme training of four Indian cosmonauts, who are on the Gaganyaan mission. They have concluded their training, but there is other areas of cooperation with Russia and the space sector including joint development, joint R&D, etc.

I mentioned about the importance attached to terrorism by both sides, including the fact that both sides stressed on the need to address the scourge of cross border terrorism, and I think both sides shared their commitment to fight against international terrorism, the need for concerted action against all terrorist groups, including those prescribed by the United Nations. Both sides felt it is important that the perpetrators of terrorism be brought to justice, in that context there was a need felt to support and strengthen the FATF mechanism and the UN Office of Counterterrorism. On Afghanistan, again, I mentioned the main elements including the issue of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan concerned in that regard. And of course, both sides felt that the safeguarding of global commons including our oceans, etc., principles of transparency and of course, the need for a post pandemic world to have transparent, reliable and resilient supply chains is also discussed. So this is in very brief of course, we'll be happy to respond to questions now.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much sir, for such a comprehensive overview. We will take a few questions now but please introduce yourself and your outlet.

Pranay: Foreign Secretary, mera sawaal 2+2 dialogue ko lekar ke hai. Usmein Bharat ki taraf se jab China Eastern Ladakh ke tension ka mudda uthaya gaya, to Russia ki taraf se kya kaha gaya? Kya is par sehmati jatayi gayi ? aur doosra Russia ki taraf se jab AUKUS ko le karke tippani ki gayi to kya Bharat wo concern share karta hai ki Australia ko nuclear power submarine ki supply jo hai, wo, is ilake mein aur ASEAN region ko nuclearize karne ka khatra paida kar sakti hai. (question in Hindi, Approximate translation) Foreign Secretary, My question is related to 2+2 dialogue, when India raised the issue of China Eastern Ladakh tensions, then what did Russia say to it? Did Russia agree? And second when Russia commented on AUKUS so does India share the concern that Nuclear power submarine’s supply related to Australia can raise the danger of nuclearising the ASEAN region?

Smita Sharma: Smita Sharma contributing editor with India ahead. Just a follow up on Pranay’squestion. I mean, Mr. Lavrov speaking to press after the 2+2, and I'm quoting him, he said, "we expressed our concern about the activities taking place in this region under the slogan of Indo Pacific strategy where we have seen non inclusive blocks, the latest being AUKUS”. What was the nature of the discussions on quad and Indo Pacific? Has it emerged as a key area of divergence between the two countries? And just a quick reaction on if the Ukrainian military developments came up for discussion, if India has a view on that, and the tensions between US and Russia at the moment.

Sidhant: Hi Sir, Sidhant from WION. My question is, was there a conversation regarding Chinese aggressiveness during Prime Minister Modi and President Putin's meeting? Also on Pakistan based international terror groups, how much there was conversation between the two leaders?

Akhilesh Suman: Sir, I’m Akhilesh Suman from Sansad TV. Were there any talks on the issue of America and China between Prime Minister and President?

Mujiv Michelle: Mujiv Michelle from the New York Times, if I can ask Sir, is there an update on the S400, was that discussed? And what is the latest on that and how do you balance that with the US threats of sanctions if India continues with that deal?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: So, let me try and respond to some of these. Some questions do overlap and I'll try and respond in general terms. I think one of the issues raised was concern about the Indo Pacific strategy. Here, I would say that the discussions at the 2+2 were quite extensive, covered a very wide range of areas, we discussed Southeast Asia, ASEAN and of course, we did discuss the Indo Pacific and India’s security concerns. I would think that as far as the Indo Pacific is concerned, there was a sense that, we are cooperating quite extensively already with Russia on areas that involve the region, I did mention the Vladivostok Chennai maritime corridor, that link which is an important one, where the DPR is nearing completion and we are looking at operationalizing that maritime corridor quite soon. We've also discussed with Russia on extending our cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, maritime cooperation. So we are working with Russia in the region, on all issues that have been mentioned.

Pranay, aapne bhi China ke bare mein zikar kiyaa tha, Eastern Ladakh ki jo abhi samasya, jo sthiti wahan pe hain, iske bare mein, charcha ke bare mein aapne zikar kiyaa, toh yeh main keh sakta hoon ki jitney bhi mudde the, Indo Pacific or jo hamaare suraksha ke anusaar jo concerns the, woh sab discuss kiye gaye hain aur isse jyadaa abhi main keh nahi paoonga. (Approximate translation in English- Pranay, you also mentioned about China as well as the problem in Eastern Ladakh, on that I would like to say that all the issues on Indo Pacific and security related concerns were discussed and that is all I can say about it)

With regards to I think, the issue of Pak based terror groups, I think this is a question that Sidhant had raised. As I told you, there was a strong convergence on the issue of counterterrorism. There was a sense by both sides that strong action needed to be taken by the international community to address the issue of terrorism, particularly cross-border terrorism, specific references were made to the Lashkar-e-taiba and other groups operating in our region. I think you can understand from this, that there was the fullest sense that all those responsible for terrorism in our neighbourhood, need to be certainly taken into account by the international community.

With regard to the Ukrainian military developments, I think Smita had asked that question. In the 2+2, I think the Russian side did provide a briefing on that situation. I don't think there was anything beyond that. I think Mujiv had raised the question on the S400. I think there was a sense that the S400, which as you're aware is a legacy contract going back to 2018. And, in fact, discussed well before that, supplies have begun this month, and will continue to happen.

On all issues relating to other countries, I think there was mention of some other countries, it is important to note that whether it is us or Russia, we conduct an independent foreign policy. And I don't think we need to look at our relationship in the light of any other relationship that is there.

Nayanima Basu: Sir, Nayanima Basu from The Print. Just wanted to understand what were the discussions around CAATSA. And also, were there any discussion on humanitarian assistance, legitimacy to the Taliban government? What was the conversation around that? Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Any other questions?

Sandhya: Sir, Sandhya with ET Online. A quick question on the PLI scheme that you have mentioned, which are the Russian companies or which are the sectors that India is looking to collaborate on Make in India? Thanks

Shrinjoy: Sir, this military technical agreement, would that include possible transfer in the future of hypersonic technology? And there's always been talk particularly from the Russian side of transfer on lease of the Akula-class submarines and one was here, one is under discussion, a third is on offer. Was there any discussions on that during the 2+2?

Suman Sharma: Sir, Suman Sharma from European Security and Defence. Sir, was logistic support agreement signed or not?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Well, let's start with RELOS, the reciprocal logistical support agreement. You know, we signed 28 agreements; we are working on a very wide canvas of agreements, including military cooperation agreement for the next 10 years, the joint manufacture of AK-203 in India. The issue of RELOS is being put off for some time, because there is still a few issues that we need to discuss further. So I think we will be concluding at the earliest possible but it is not concluded during this visit. With regard to CAATSA, I don't think this issue came up at all. I did mention about the S400. On humanitarian assistance, and Afghanistan, I think both sides agreed that humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan would be called for, and that both sides were making efforts to provide that essential support to the Afghan people. The question of legitimacy of the government, I think, did not come up at all, the issue really was whether we should be extending humanitarian assistance.

With regard to the PLI scheme, I think there was one example that was certainly mentioned that of steel, I think the Prime Minister invited Russian investments in the steel sector. The Russian side also expressed interest in that sector because it was felt that certain technologies, certain inputs could come in, which would be, I think, useful for both sides. The PLI sector, of course, there's also scope in shipbuilding, in the railways; again, there is an interest. And I mentioned 13 key sectors and those are certainly areas, as I mentioned, civilian shipbuilding, we've got areas like organic chemicals, steel, etc. And we've also asked the Russian side to continue consideration of setting up manufacturing facilities in Greenfield industrial cities under the industrial corridor programme of the government.

Shrinjoy, I think, I did mention that at the 2+2, fairly extensive discussions on defence related cooperation. There was a sense that the Russian side was very cognizant to the fact that the priority in India was on joint manufacturing, collaboration, technology transfers. And they were very much in the spirit of entering into partnerships with us in that regard. I think that was the focus of that entire 2+2 meeting and subsequent discussions that took place at the summit level, between the Prime Minister and the President, how Russia could be continued to partner us in areas where we can work together collaboratively under the spirit of Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat. And, I think, this discussion was an area of great convergence between both the sides.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: That brings us to the end of this special media briefing. May I thank Foreign Secretary Sir, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, also thanks to Ambassador Pavan Kapoor and Joint Secretary Dr. Adarsh Swaika. Thank you all for joining us. Namaskar. Good evening.

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