India, Russia diverge on Indo-Pacific strategy

India, Russia diverge on Indo-Pacific strategy

Russian Ambassador points to Cold War era thinking, while Jaishankar says no other country can decide India’s partnerships.

India and Russia are “committed” to completing their contract for the S-400 missile system, due to be delivered to India at the end of the year, confirmed Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev, who said both countries oppose U.S. sanctions on the issue.

The public comments made by both Mr. Kudashev and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Wednesday, however, made it clear that there are deep differences over America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

“Together with India we do not recognise bilateral sanctions as they are illegal tools of unfair competition, pressure and blackmail. This was clearly stated by the two Foreign ministers in their exchange,” Mr. Kudashev said to a question from The Hindu at an interaction about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with Mr. Jaishankar last week.

“With regard to S400, both sides are committed to the agreed timelines and obligations … this contract is being successfully fulfilled,” he said.

The Hindu had reported on Wednesday that the S-400 contract is on track for a delivery of the systems in November, despite America’s repeated threat that the $2.5-billion deal could attract sanctions under its CAATSA law. Washington has already sanctioned China over its purchase of the S-400, and on April 7, sanctions against Turkish defence institutions and certain officials also went into effect over a similar purchase. Last month, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had spoken to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh about the deal, adding that sanctions would be determined once the systems were delivered.

Stressing that there was a “meeting of minds on a majority of issues”, Mr. Kudashev pointed to differences on approaches to the Indo-Pacific strategy where India is a part of the Quad with Australia, Japan and the U.S. “We want to call the attention of our Indian partners and friends to the dangers emerging from the Western Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at a revival of the Cold War era thinking and Cold War era structures,” he said in a reference to the U.S.-Soviet rivalry and the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance between the U.S. and Western Europe to counter Russia.

However, speaking at the MEA’s annual Raisina Dialogue conference a few hours later, Mr. Jaishankar contested the comparison to Cold War terminology, saying the Indo-Pacific represented a more historical, seamless geographical entity that ranged from Africa to the U.S. coast.

No veto: Jaishankar

“I would argue that in a way, the Indo-Pacific is a return to history. It reflects the more contemporary world. It is actually overcoming the Cold War, not reinforcing it,” Mr. Jaishankar said at a panel that included Australian and French Foreign Ministers Marise Payne and Jean Yves Le Drian.

Mr. Jaishankar also said no other nation could have a “veto” over India’s partnerships, and called terms such as Asian NATO a “mind game” being played by other countries. “That kind of NATO mentality has never been in India, if it has been in Asia, that would be other countries, not mine.”

Speaking to the media, Russian Deputy Chief of Mission Roman Babushkin also addressed speculation over a strain in India-Russia ties during Mr. Lavrov’s visit, particularly over the Russian Foreign Minister’s next stop in Islamabad where he discussed supplying Pakistan with military equipment for counter-terrorism, as well as over Afghanistan’s future.

Mr. Babushkin said fighting against terrorism was part of a “common agenda”, and as members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which Russia, India and Pakistan are, cooperation on a number of areas, including regional security and countering threats, had been discussed. He said India and Russia both agreed on an “Aghan-owned Afghan-led” solution for the conflict, and that India should be part of the regional mechanisms to discuss this.

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