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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on upcoming visit of PM to Vladivostok (September 02, 2019)

September 03, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Namaskar friends, good afternoon and thank you very much for joining us today for a special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum which will be preceded by a bilateral visit.

The dates of the visit are 4-5 September, 2019. I have with me Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale, I also have Jt. Secretary (ERS), Shri Manish. After the initial remarks by Foreign Secretary I will open the floor to questions. Sir, the floor is yours.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:Thank you Raveesh and good evening ladies and gentlemen. I want to brief you about Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to Russia. It’s going to be short visit, just 36 hours. He will arrive in Vladivostok on the morning of 4 September and depart from Vladivostok on the evening of September 5.

There are two main purposes for this visit. He has been invited to attend the Eastern Economic Forum by President Putin as one of the Chief Guests. And secondly he will also hold the 20thAnnual Summit between India and Russia.

The previous editions of the Eastern Economic Forum, this is a forum started by Russia in 2015, have been attended by our former Commerce & Industry Minister in 2018 and our former External Affairs Minister in 2017. So we have had regular high level political level attendance at this Eastern Economic Forum.

Before I get into some of the details of the two elements of the visit I wanted to share some of the program elements. In the forenoon after he arrives, the President and the Prime Minister will make a joint visit to one of their major ship building yards. This is a plant that makes vessels including ice breakers and oil tankers. The two leaders will go together to see this plant and then in the afternoon of the 4ththere will be restricted and delegation level talks followed by dinner.

On the morning of 5th September, there will be some bilaterals. The Head of State of Mongolia and the Prime Ministers of Japan and Malaysia will also be attending the Eastern Economic Forum but at this stage I am not in a position to confirm which of these bilaterals take place, some of them.

Subsequently in the afternoon is the Eastern Economic Forum plenary meeting and then just before Prime Minister departs President Putin and Prime Minister will jointly visit a major judo championship which is taking place in Vladivostok before PM returns back to Delhi. There is actually a six member Indian Judo team in Vladivostok participating in the championship. It is an international championship.

The Eastern Economic Forum as I mentioned is an event they have been holding every year since 2015 in Vladivostok. The main event is in St. Petersburg every May and the Prime Minister will deliver an address. There will also be an India-Russia Business Dialogue and for this a 50 member FICCI delegation is also going to be in Vladivostok at the same time.

You’ll will recall that the Deputy Prime Minister, in-charge of the Far East and Arctic Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister Trutnev had come to India on 20th of June to prepare for Prime Ministers visit and subsequent to that a very high powered government and business delegation had visited Vladivostok on 11-12 August. This included Chief Ministers of four states, of Gujarat, Goa, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and our Commerce & Industry Minister Shri Piyush Goyal.

They were accompanied by a business delegation of almost 150 business persons and this was a clear intent on part of our government to show that we attach importance to the Russian Far East as an area where we can do business as well as an area of geopolitical importance to us in the context of the Indo-Pacific.

There was a round table that our chief ministers had, 11 governors of Russian provinces attended. Several MoUs were signed, a number of Russian companies participated. So we demonstrated a seriousness of intent in engaging with the Russian Far East which we have had relatively limited economic and commercial contact because our focus has either been Europe or Russia or the area just north of the Central Asian Republics.

Some of the potential sectors are coking coal, obviously oil and gas, diamonds, timber, tourism and from our prospective we are also looking at the possibilities of farming and also of manpower export. There is serious shortage of Manpower in that part of the world.

And as I said the Eastern Economic Forum, therefore gains an importance not only because we would like to develop strong economic and commercial relations. Many of the resources are something India needs in the near future but it is also because of the opening of the Northern Sea Route, the Arctic Route to Europe because of climate change and global warming is now much easily accessed in comparison to 20 or 30 years ago. And also the possibility of oil and gas supplies from the Arctic. So there are a number of reasons why we are looking at the Eastern Economic Forum and this is why Prime Minister readily agreed to President Putin’s invitation.

The Annual Summit is of course also taking place in Vladivostok. The last one was in Delhi on October 5 last year and since then the two leaders have met four times. Twice at the G20 in Buenos Aires and Osaka, at the SCO Summit in Bishkek and at the East Asia Summit last November in Singapore.

We have had fairly intensive political interactions since the last summit. From the Russian side we’ve have defence minister Shoygu. We have had two deputy prime ministers after the government reassumed office which is Deputy Prime Minister Trutnev, whom I have mentioned and Deputy Minister Borisov who is the head of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission. We have had the speaker of the Russian Duma or the Russian parliament and we have had their NSAs as well.

From our side, of course, last week we had External Affairs Minister who visited at the invitation of Lavrov. We have had the NSA who is gone earlier in July. We had the minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas who has just returned and of course the Commerce and Industry Minister, I mentioned visited Vladivostok along with the four chief ministers. So fairly intensive political interaction in the last one year and particularly after the government has assumed office for the second time.

We have a very special relationship with Russia. The Annual summits are occasions to look at the entire gamut principally focusing on bilateral relations. I think there is an intent on the part of both leaders and Prime Minister has said this on a number of times.

We need to broaden the relationship with Russia beyond civil, nuclear and defence into other areas of economy and one of the reasons why this very sizeable government cum business delegation went to Vladivostok was precisely to fulfil that objective. So there will obviously be discussions on those areas.

Obviously oil and gas is a major sector for us that will be covered. Space is a major area for us, the Russian government has extended cooperation on the Gaganyan program that is an important area for us. The railway sector is important.

We are in the process of finalizing a feasibility report or rather the Russians are in the process of finalizing a feasibility report for some sectors for speed raising in some sectors. And obviously there will inevitably discussions on how we can work better in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in RIC i.e. Russia-India-China and in BRICS and as you know the BRICS Summit is coming up down the road.

If time is available, obviously certain important regional issues will be discussed that includes the situation in the Gulf, discussions on DPRK and of course the fast evolving situation in Afghanistan.

Obviously we expect a number of concrete outcomes. There is the inevitable the joint statement will be there but more important than that will be a roadmap on hydrocarbon cooperation. A five year roadmap stating and laying out what possibilities we have in cooperating on oil & gas both in terms of exploration and exploitation and in terms of purchase in the five year time frame 2019 – 2024 as we seek to diversify our oil & gas supplies beyond complete dependency in the Gulf.

Some specific letters of intent will also be signed between Indian public sector companies and Russian entities for development of oil & gas fields. I will leave the details for the Prime Minister’s press statement. So I will not disclose this at the moment.

A number of MoUs are expected to be signed between Coal India and the Russian counterpart for export of coking coal and for cooperation in the mining sector between the Steel Authority of India Limited and the Russian counterpart for import of metallurgical coal, in the area of audio-visual co production, in the power sector, in developing a maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok and a number of business MoUs also, 8 or 10 of them in fairly important areas. I won’t go into those details. I am sure these will be covered in the press statement.

So essentially this is the broad outline of the Prime Minister’s program and of the agenda when he visits Russia. I’ll stop there ladies and gentlemen and if there are any questions I’d be happy to answer them on this subject.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Thank you sir. We will take questions only on prime minister’s visit to Russia.

Question: Given the fact that defence is a focus point when it comes India-Russia relationship. Can we expect some major announcements in defence especially in the KA226 deal which many are hoping that it might be signed given the fact that it’s been considerable time now?

Question: Can you give us a clarity about the S400 deal, has India made any initial payment to Russia in this regard?

Question: I guess you are stressing on how we are broadening our energy partnership with the Russia and the prime minister’s priority would be the same but keeping this in mind to what extent do we aim to broaden our energy partnership with Russia in terms of importing our energy from there. We had set some targets when it comes to the relationship with US but vis-à-vis Russia how much of our energy needs are we looking to meet from Russia?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:Thank you. On the defence sector, obviously there will be discussions between the two sides, that is as I said one of the pillars of our cooperation. As far as I am aware there will be no announcements regarding any specific agreements that we have reached.

As far as the S400 is concerned, this is a matter which is handled by the Ministry of Defence. So you will have to direct a question to them as to how far we have proceeded in the implementation of the agreement.

As far as oil & gas is concerned, as I said one of the objectives of this visit is, in fact, to diversify and not to have a dependency on any one country, on any one region. To that extent we are looking at two entirely different issues. One is exploration of oil & gas in proves areas where there are reserves and as I said we expect actually to be possibly even announcing, by we, I mean the public sector corporation not the government of India, in announcing some investments in new oil field clusters.

The other is of course import of LNG from Russia and there too as far as I am aware there is something concrete which will either be announced during the visit or just after the visit. So in other words the intent to develop greater ties in energy between India and Russia is going to be followed by actual action on the ground.

Question: This is with regards to the expected bilaterals in Russia. You mentioned that there could be one with the Malaysian side, in that will India raise the issue of Zakir Naik considering there have been some contradictory statements coming from Malaysia with the regards to the possibility of him being extradited or deported?

Question: On energy ties, there was a talk of an oil pipeline between Russia and India, is it still on or gone off the table?

Question: Any new agreement for construction of six nuclear power plants likely to be signed and what will be the sites for these six nuclear power plants?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:I am answering in reverse order. No new agreement is going to be signed at this annual summit. We are at the moment in the process of implementing the six units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant and obviously there will be some discussions about the progress in that aspect.

The oil pipeline between India and Russia is still a very much subject of discussion but of course it involves certain other countries in route and there is more than one complication involved there. So I would presume that while discussion would take place any concrete development would depend upon how the issue of US sanctions on Iran progresses as well as of course our relationship with Pakistan because it traverses both these regions.

As far as Malaysia and Zakir Naik is concerned, as I said, as of now we are still waiting on confirmations on bilaterals. I really do not wish to comment at this stage on what issues might be raised but we will certainly do a briefing thereafter. If there is a meeting with Malaysia we will certainly brief the media on what was discussed.

Question: Since huge business delegation is going to Vladivostok, I understand that the diamond business between India and Vladivostok i.e. Gujarat and Vladivostok has been taking place since 1991-92 actually. Do we still maintain a consulate in Vladivostok, number one and what is going to happen so far as the diamond trade is concerned between India and Vladivostok?

Question: Considering that 150 Indian businessmen and four chief ministers in Vladivostok, do we know how many MoUs for cooperation and investment were signed and what is the total possible investment, any other details?

Question: It is expected that cross-border terrorism, an issue which India has been discussing with the other major countries, what has been Russian position on this issue, on the issue of cross-border terrorism, we know on the Kashmir the Russians are backing India completely calling it an internal issue but on cross-border terrorism what has been Moscow’s stand?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Thank you. As far as first question is concerned, to confirm, yes, we have a consulate in Vladivostok and that consulate continues to be in operation and there is absolutely no intention of closing it down. In fact its salience has increased as the whole issue of the Indo-Pacific is becoming more and more important to us and also if the Northern Sea Route or the Arctic Route opens, shipping will go via Vladivostok to Europe over the Northern Sea Route.

So we in fact envisage that the consulate will probably become more and more important rather than less and less relevant.

As far as the diamond trade is concerned you are absolutely correct, we have had one or two Indian companies also investing there. The idea is to get into it in a greater way because we have a large diamond processing industry here in India and one of the possibilities therefore is seeing if private sector investment is possible and linked to that also manpower exports in that regards because there is a shortage of people even to process diamonds. So this is something which is one of the focal points of our efforts in the Russian Far East.

I have details of likely MoUs that the private sector will sign. Obviously the ideas of the government cum business delegation was that the government will facilitate but by itself other than umbrella MoUs, and I mentioned some of them, the governments are not going to sign MoUs of a commercial nature but FICCI has shared with us the information of the some of the MoUs which may be signed and without going into the companies concerned I would say there are about 15 or 16 which could be signed mostly in the private sector but some which involved PSUs as well.

Again, the sectors concerned, I think, are mining, skills development, steel, medicine, education and agriculture. And as I said most of them are private sector MoUs that are going to be signed.

As far as the third question is concerned, the Russian Federation has clearly stated that they stand fully behind India on this whole issue. And the issue of Jammu & Kashmir whether it is Article 370, whether it is cross-border terrorism, we have not doubt and this has been reiterated when External Affairs Minister recently visited, that the Russian side is fully behind us on this matter.

Question: Considering that India had finally sent in non-official – official representatives in the Moscow format on Afghanistan and with reports coming in now that the copy of the framework agreement between the US and Taliban has actually been shared or shown to the government in Kabul, what really are India’s concern at this point in time in terms of India and Russia, is there a common ground there on the same page, are you simply being an observer and would really appreciate if after the questions on Russia are over we could get some clarity on the consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav that played out this afternoon, please.

Question: The Russians appear to have welcomed India’s suggestion about training of Indian astronauts in their areas. Three are being spoken of, two men and one woman. Can you give us some more details on that?

Question: Sir you mentioned man power exports to the Russian Far East. Could you elaborate on that and the connectivity between Chennai and Vladivostok as well, what are the plans for that?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:Again I will go by reverse order. You see we are exploring the possibility of sending people with some skills in areas wherever there are manpower shortage. That is not limited to the Far East Russia, this is some efforts that we have been making in a number of countries but this is one of the areas where we now feel that there is a good potential.

Essentially these are skilled workers and in some of the sectors that I mentioned because most of the Russian Far East is essentially either the minerals sector or the agriculture sector. Now we are still at the early stage because as we do with other countries you have to have an agreement like with the Europeans what we call as the migration and mobility agreement or with the other countries we have labor agreements.

So we are not at the stage, yet, of implementing it immediately but what I can say is that we have received an encouraging response from the Russian side and now we will proceed to explore it once this visit is over. It is important for us and we will give priority to this.

As far as connectivity is concerned, as I said, the effort is to build shipping links between Chennai and Vladivostok. By that I want to be clear, I don’t mean to say there is going to be an announcement of a shipping service between Chennai and Vladivostok immediately or anything of the kind but I think there is a recognition that an alternative route to Europe through the Northern Route is now a possibility that we should look at in terms of the economic benefits it might bring us with the North East of Asia and beyond.

Particularly because a lot of the new oil and gas finds and mineral finds in this region. So I think this is the start of a process and it will take a while but we felt that it is important to start and PM’s whole visit to Vladivostok is essentially signal of the fact that we attach importance to this part of Russia, a part that we have not really bothered about for the last, may be, six or seven decades.

As far as second question is concerned, Russia is one of the few countries which has end to end capability on human space flight and so they are a natural partner for us.

I don’t have any detailed information on the astronauts or even on the training program except to know that there will be training in both countries done by them. So some of the training will be in Russia, some of the training will be in India as well. That is still being worked out but I have no further details that I can share with you on who is being selected or what is the nature of the training.

As far as first question is concerned, although you question is not strictly related to Russia, I just want to say that as far as India and Russia are concerned we have common grounds. We both believe that at the end of the process whatever is the outcome of discussions between United States and the Taliban what we both hope to see is a stable political situation where there is a political order and where there is a guarantee that the peace agreement or the post agreement process will hold.

To that extent we have regular consultations, the most recent were in fact when the External Affairs Minister was in Russia and by and large we have been on the same page with Russia on this. So we expect that as we go down the road and as of yet there is not announcement. We will continue to work closely with them.

On the question of what sort of representation we make if and when the next round of intra-Afghan talks take place and if we are invited, I don’t want to speculate but all I want to say at this stage that it is an important point and we are giving very serious consideration on this matter.

My colleague tells me that we will shortly be issuing a statement relating to the consular access given to us today by ourChargé d'affaires to Shri Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav.

Question: Foreign Secretary, if I could just continue with a previous question on Afghanistan because this is a key area where India and Russia have had discussions and as it was pointed out we actually sent a non-official delegation to talks with the Taliban there. The question really, do India and Russia feel that the outcome of these talks, what you just said the outcome of the discussions between the two are actually legitimate given that the government in Kabul, which both India and Russia have said, must be front and center of any discussion, has not even been part of the negotiations.

Question: A quick question around ICT, anything that is on agenda around 5G or cyber security bilaterally between the two countries?

Question: There have been reports that India has called Russia and Japan to form a new trilateral, can you please give us more details about it?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:As far as last question is concerned, there are no details to share because as of now there is no scheduled meeting or scheduled discussion on this subject. What I can say is that we are interested in working with any third country in the Russian Far East because we believe that the other countries also have the capacity to invest there and we would like to partner with them.

So I think it is a general statement of intent on our part that we are ready not only to do bilateral investments but to partner with third countries in Russian Far East, there is no individual country where we are particular, at this stage, speaking to.

On the 5G and cyber security, I just want to mention there is unlikely to be any discussion at the leader’s level. We of course have a cyber-security dialogue with Russia but on this particular issue, I would be sort of surprised if there is any discussion although obviously I cannot prejudge what subjects would be discussed by the two leaders.

As far as first question is concerned, I have to be very careful in this matter and simply to say that let’s see. Firstly I think we support all peace initiatives, we have been part of all of them and in some cases even though we have not initially been a part of them, we have been supportive of them.

Our issue has been what is the sort of post settlement situation and in that regard our position has been very clear. We prefer a system which has constitutional legitimacy, which has a political mandate, which will ensure stability and most important, which will not leave ungoverned spaces for terrorists and their proxies to take advantage of. I think that is our position.

We are yet to hear the details of the US - Taliban agreement. As and when we hear the details I am sure that we will put out a statement or we will comment but until then it would be difficult for me to come on the record with anything.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Thank you sir, thank you Manish. This concludes the special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to Russia. Thank you all for joining.



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