Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to subcontinent underlines changing nature of India-Russia relationship
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the subcontinent — his visit to India followed by a two-day trip to Pakistan — underlines the readjustment of Moscow’s orientation in the region. The focus of Lavrov’s visit to the region was on the Afghanistan peace process and he spoke in New Delhi of the need for an “inclusive solution”, emphasising that the “Taliban is a part of Afghan society”. India’s stand, diplomatically articulated by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, has been that the “peace process should be based on foundational principles… and a political solution should mean an independent… and democratic Afghanistan”. In Islamabad, Lavrov said that Russia and Pakistan had “convergent positions” on the Afghan peace process.
The differences between Delhi and Moscow, however, extend to a wider strategic theatre, beyond South Asia and Afghanistan. This was apparent in Jaishankar’s use of the term “Indo-Pacific” and Lavrov insisting on “Asia Pacific”. The Russian FM also spoke of Russia’s close relationship with China but emphasised that Moscow eschewed “military alliances”. And in a thinly-veiled reference to the Quad — the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral security dialogue — he said that alliances such as “Asian NATO” can be “counterproductive” and at odds with “inclusive cooperation”. Coupled with its closeness to China and outreach to Pakistan, Lavrov’s visit marks a departure for Russia-India ties.
For both Delhi and Moscow, the current moment represents a challenge that they must rise to without giving up their respective core interests. There have been significant shifts in the great-power dynamics in recent years. Differences have deepened between the US and China and the US and Russia, while Sino-Russian ties are, in Lavrov’s words, “the highest in history”. It is this broader scenario in which Russia is drawing closer to Pakistan, and India is broadening its diplomatic footprint. However, as far as the bilateral relationship is concerned, both countries continue to value each other and there are still many essential areas of convergence, including in defence and energy, and the longstanding partnership in the space and nuclear sectors. For example, India is keen to go ahead with the purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia despite the threat of sanctions under CAATSA from the US. Maintaining and building on these aspects will preserve the relationship in an evolving global scenario.
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