India-Russia face ‘common threats’ from Afghanistan: Indian envoy

India-Russia face ‘common threats’ from Afghanistan: Indian envoy

Ambassador to Russia confirms NSA meeting in November on Afghanistan

India and Russia face “common threats” emanating from Afghanistan, said outgoing Ambassador to Russia Venkatesh Varma, confirming that India’s presence at the “Moscow format” meeting, which will include the Taliban Deputy Prime Minister, on Wednesday, and a meeting of the National Security Advisors in Delhi in November, where the NSAs of China and Pakistan have also been invited.

“The situation in Afghanistan poses similar problems in terms of instability, drug trafficking, terrorism threat and also the instability that may radiate towards Central Asia,” Ambassador Varma, who is set to return to Delhi shortly, said in a “farewell interview” to Kommersant daily.

“Both sides recognise common threats emanating from Afghanistan affect India & Russia — probably more than any other set of countries,” he said.

Logistical difficulties

The Moscow format meet will see an official Indian delegation led by Joint Secretary for Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran JP Singh and Joint Secretary for Eurasia Adarsh Swaika participate for the first time. Officials from 10 countries, including Taliban Deputy PM Abdul Salam Hanafi will attend the meeting, though the U.S., whose special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad resigned on Monday, has announced that it will not participate due to “logistical difficulties”.

During the meeting, which will be addressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the participants would “discuss prospects for development of the military-political situation in Afghanistan and the formation of an inclusive government”, adding that a separate meeting of Russia, China and Pakistan took place in Moscow on Tuesday.

Ambassador Varma also confirmed an upcoming meeting of the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral via a videoconference format soon, amidst a slew of Russia-India bilateral engagements towards the end of the year.

Inter-governmental defence commission

“Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we could not have a summit in 2020. It is our intention and both sides are in active discussion on this, that President Putin will be able to visit India towards the end of this year,” Mr. Varma said, adding that there would be a visit by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu for the inter-governmental defence commission, along with the “2+2” format meetings of Defence and Foreign Ministers as well as an economic joint commission to prepare for the bilateral summit. The Ambassador also confirmed that the S-400 missile systems were “on track” for delivery in December.

When asked about the possibility of U.S. reservations over the deal, which Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman called ‘dangerous’ and “not in anyone’s interest” earlier this month, indicating sanctions could follow the S-400 delivery, Mr. Varma said India “stands on its own feet, thinks with its own mind and pursues its own interests”.

“There is a unique, inherent strength in India-Russia relations, which has shown time and again that it follows its own logic and is immune to pressures from third countries. Besides, India is too big a country to slide one way or the other.”

Tensions with China

Mr. Varma said tensions with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) had been caused due to “unilateral attempts by China to alter the status quo”, but that India continued to engage China on a number of fronts apart from the ongoing LAC talks.

“We are engaged with China bilaterally and we are also engaged with China in various forums, including the Russia-India-China, which will possibly be holding its next Foreign Minister-level meeting, perhaps through video conference. But there is also engagement with China in the Security Council, where India is a member, also in the G20, BRICS and the SCO,” he said.

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