‘Russia Will Remain India’s Key Foreign Policy Priority’

Russia is and will remain India’s key foreign policy priority, and the challenge before the two countries would be to nurture and foster the close ties amid fast unfolding global changes, a senior diplomat in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said today.

Vijay Gokhale, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA, said past relationship between the two countries should not transmute into a “passive” present partnership, insisting there was no room for complacency in Indo-Russia ties.

He was speaking at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), a leading think-tank.

Observing that the past few years have witnessed unprecedented changes in the world, Gokhale said Indo-Russia ties cannot remain isolated from global changes.

“Therefore, the challenge before all of us, whether in the government or outside, would be how to nurture and foster our ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ amidst these fast unfolding global changes,” he said.

The MEA official’s comments came amid apparent unease in Moscow over India’s growing ties with the United States.

Gokhale said there was a need to expand bilateral engagement between the two countries beyond the traditional fields of energy and defence.

Talking about connectivity projects, he said India supports such regional and international initiatives, but at the same time asserted that due sensitivity in respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states was essential, in an apparent reference to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

India has expressed strong reservations over BRI as the USD 50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). CPEC is part of the BRI.

Referring to the Chabahar port project, Gokhale said it was the first step to build a sea-land link with Central Asia and Russia, that is both secure and sustainable.

“We appreciate the encouragement given by Russia to the Chabahar project,” he said, a day after the first phase of the Chabahar port was inaugurated.

On regional issues, Gokhale said India and Russia have shared interest in peace, security and prosperity in Indo-Pacific, Eurasia and the world at large.

“Whenever we have divergences, these should be bridged in an appropriate way through discussion and better understanding,” he noted.

On defence cooperation, Gokhale said India believes it was the opportune time to move from a buyer-seller format to joint production and investments, in order to bring a new dynamism to military co-operation.

“We invite the Russian defence industry to look at our new policies in this regard and to partner us, as India begins its journey to become a defence manufacturer,” he said.

On economic cooperation, the MEA (Economic Relations) secretary said the current trade figures do not reflect the real potential.

“Russia could look at new opportunities to invest in India, for instance in infrastructure and logistics sectors.

All our economic indicators suggest that ours is a market with long-term potential and stability,” he added.

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