Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s short visit to India had a missing element. He did not call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as per norm. The reason ostensibly was that the PM was not in town.
Modi was busy campaigning for the West Bengal elections in Howrah, as Lavrov met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in New Delhi on Tuesday. Lavrov landed in the National Capital on Monday around 9pm, and his first official engagement, according to a media advisory, was at 11am on Tuesday.
The Russian foreign minister flew directly to Islamabad from New Delhi on Tuesday afternoon, after holding a joint press conference with Jaishankar.
It is no secret that New Delhi has been sensitive to visiting dignitaries clubbing their visit to India with that to Pakistan, something the Russian side did this time.
Meanwhile, India became the venue for a meeting between two visiting dignitaries. Lavrov met with the US Presidential Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, in New Delhi. The US embassy described it as a “happenstance”, adding that they ran into each other since they were staying at the same hotel.
The embassy also said they “chatted for a few minutes about climate”. Kerry is in India for the ground work ahead of the virtual climate summit being hosted by US President Joe Biden on April 22-23 in the run-up to COP 26 in Glasgow later this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited for the virtual summit. According to TASS news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow has received the invitation and the details were being worked out through diplomatic channels.
On the day of taking office in January, Biden had announced that the US was rejoining the Paris Accord. Kerry and Lavrov have had a phone call over the implementation of the Paris Accord in February.
Notably very sharp words have been exchanged between Biden and Putin in March. In an interview with ABC, Biden had called Putin a killer. In response, Kremlin had called the relations between the two countries as very bad. Putin then called Biden for a live chat — an offer that was rejected by the US, while adding that it will continue to engage with Russia on issues of mutual national interest.
Speaking on US pressure on India over the purchase of military equipment from Russia, Lavrov said, “It was not me who pointed out that the United States has been putting pressure on India and on any other country that has or plans to sign contracts with Russia for the supply of weapons. This has been publicly and without any hesitation announced by the United States. Everyone knows this well. We are also well aware of the response from India.”
India has reiterated several times that it will work as per its interests on national security. During the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit in June 2019, Jaishankar had said, “On the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act) issue, again, Secretary Pompeo knows and I have explained to him in some detail, we have many relationships with many countries, many of them are of some standing, they have a history. I think, we will do what is in our national interest, energy security is part of it but there are other concerns as well.”
The US has recently imposed sanctions on its NATO ally Turkey for purchase of S-400 missile defence system. On repeated questions whether India can come under CAATSA sanctions too, the US has indicated that sanctions are not meant to hurt allies and partners.
Lavrov also indicated that Russia and India are building the ground for deeper military ties. He said, “We have the Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, which has its own plans, including discussing the prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment in India as part of Make in India and Self-Sufficient India concepts. I did not feel any hesitation here on the part of our Indian friends and partners.”