In an interview with TASS, Indian Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran who was recently appointed Deputy National Security Advisor spoke about the S-400 negotiations, the situation with the FGFA project and the prospects for cooperation in the energy sphere in third countries. He also explained why the Putin-Modi summit in Sochi can be described as historic and what the Indo-Pacific Region concept means for New Delhi.
– The first informal Summit in the history of India-Russia relations was held in the end of May in Sochi. What was the reason for organising this unscheduled meeting?
– I would like to term this as a historic event. For the first time President Putin and Prime Minister Modi spent most of their time together in an informal setting without delegations. They visited the Children’s Education Centre “Sirius”, the Cultural-Ethnographic Centre in Krasnaya Polyana and carried out very fruitful discussions. This summit was characterized by a special personal chemistry between the two leaders. The reason for this unscheduled meeting was that both sides wanted to exchange opinions on key global and regional issues including development of situation in Afghanistan, Syria and Iran as well as to discuss matters of bilateral interest. Today relations between India and Russia are important not only for our two countries but also for the region and the whole world. And we would like to build a multi-polar world where India and Russia will contribute to global stability.
– The statement of the Foreign Ministry of India on the results of the talks notes that the sides agreed on intensifying consultations and coordination on the issue of Indo-Pacific region. How would you like to comment on this on account of the fact that Russian officials criticised this concept in the light of renewal of Quadrilateral strategic dialogue among USA, India, Japan and Australia?
– It is important that the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) and Quad format are not confused with each other. The essence of IPR was outlined by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in his address at the Security Conference “Shangri La Dialogue” on June 1, 2018 in Singapore. The Indian view of IPR is positive – this is an open and inclusive arrangement, which is not directed against any country nor intended to contain any country. Expanding partnership with Russia is an integral part of our Indo-Pacific policy. Delivering his address in Singapore, Prime Minister Modi recalled that during his meeting with President Putin, they shared views on the need for a strong multi-polar world. The Prime Minister also noted that the maturity of India’s special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia was a measure of India’s strategic autonomy.
The Quadrilateral format of USA-Japan-India-Australia is one of the many multilateral dialogues in the region, and not directed against any country. It is not part of the Indo-Pacific region concept outlined by Prime Minister Modi in Shangri La.
– Was supply of Air Defense System S-400 discussed during the Summit? Is pressure from the American side going to influence the negotiations on the contract?
– Military-Technical cooperation between India and Russia was discussed during the meeting between the leaders. We are committed to all our agreements in this sphere, including purchase of S-400. India has a long history of military-technical cooperation with Russia based on trust and mutual benefit. There is no change in the approach of India to our partnership in this field.
– Can we expect signing of agreement on supply of S-400 during this summit in the end of this year?
– I would not like to fix any time-frame. I can only say that we have achieved significant progress in the negotiations.
– Earlier according to information in the mass media, India withdrew from the joint project of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Can you confirm this?
– I can only say that the talks are going on, as a result of which there is better understanding of each other’s priorities and plans for the future.
– Have the dates for the annual bilateral summit in Delhi been agreed upon?
– The dates have not been announced but we expect the summit to take place sometime in October in India.
– What other meetings are planned in the coming months?
– Before the 19th Annual Summit, we expect the various Inter-Governmental Commissions to meet including on Trade & Economic Cooperation and Military & Military-Technical Cooperation along with their sub-groups. There are likely to be other high-level visits. The leaders of India and Russia will also be meeting in various multilateral forums such as G-20, SCO, BRICS and East Asia Summit. The first India-Russia Innovation and Start-up Summit is also expected to take place this year.
Apart from these, we will launch the Strategic Economic Dialogue between the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia and the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog. This is a new initiative which was agreed upon during the summit meeting in May. Unlike Inter-Governmental Commissions where practical problems are resolved, in the framework of this dialogue, economic policy priorities of both countries, macro-economic issues, strategic priorities for bilateral cooperation, including agriculture, finance, infrastructure, small & medium business will be discussed.
One of the challenges in our relations is lack of adequate attention to the economic component of our partnership. We hope that this bilateral dialogue will help to resolve this problem.
– Have the dates and place for the dialogue been decided? Who will head the delegations from the Russian and Indian sides?
– Presently we are working on the format and agenda. If all preparatory work is completed, then the dialogue will be held before the next Summit, most likely in St. Petersburg. We hope that the Indian side will be headed by Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog Rajiv Kumar. I would note that the Chairman of NITI Aayog is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and thus the delegation will be headed at a very high-level. The Russian side is expected to be headed by Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin.
– How would you assess the dynamics of development of India-Russia economic relations in the current year?
– I think the dynamics has been positive. The Minister of Commerce and Industry of India Suresh Prabhu took part in SPIEF. He held fruitful meetings with Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District and Ministers of Economic Development, Transport, Industry & Trade. Both sides agreed on prospective areas of future cooperation such as Agriculture, Forest Industry, Fertilizers, Mineral Resources, Gold mining, Diamond Industry, Civil Aviation and others. We also would like to cooperate in the spheres of transport and logistics and invite Russian companies to take part in the construction of industrial corridors in India.
As for the energy sphere, I would like to note that the other day India received the first consignment of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) under a long term contract to the tune of 2.85 million metric tonnes every year. This is a historic step in the creation of an energy bridge between India and Russia. As per our information, bilateral trade turnover last year has increased by 20%. This growth took place mainly because of increase in export of petro-products, fertilizers and equipment for nuclear power plants from Russia to India.
– I would like to touch upon the subject of construction of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh. How exactly is India going to participate in the project? Is possibility of other joint projects in third country being considered by Moscow and Delhi?
– The trilateral agreement provides various options for India’s participation in the Rooppur NPP including training of personnel, participation in construction work, supply of equipment and ensuring security. The companies will have to negotiate the exact format of cooperation.
As for the second question, the answer is yes. Both sides are of the same opinion that they can work together in third countries in various fields including Nuclear Energy and Oil & Gas sphere. The talks are presently in a preliminary stage.