India, Russia sign AK-203 rifle deal, 27 other pacts in Modi-Putin meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives Russian President Vladimir Putin at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

New Delhi: India and Russia on Monday vowed to ramp up cooperation in confronting major challenges such as terrorism, radicalism and the situation in Afghanistan during a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin as the two countries inked 28 pacts, including a major agreement for joint production of over six lakh AK-203 rifles in a facility in Uttar Pradesh.

During their "highly productive" in-person meeting, Putin described India as a "great power" and a "time-tested" friend and said both countries will continue to coordinate in fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime.

According to a joint statement, Modi and Putin emphasised that Afghanistan's territory should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba, ISIS and Al Qaeda, besides condemning cross-border movement of terrorists, seen as a clear reference to Pakistan.

It said the two sides reaffirmed their firm commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and to ensure that Afghanistan would never become a safe haven for global terrorism.

Largely the areas of focus for stepping up cooperation included defence and military, civil nuclear energy, space, transport and connectivity, energy, trade and health.

"They outlined the priorities which include ensuring the formation of a truly inclusive and representative government, combating terrorism and drug trafficking, providing immediate humanitarian assistance and preserving the rights of women, children and minorities," the joint statement said.

The summit followed the inaugural '2+2' foreign and defence ministerial dialogue and the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-M&MTC).

In the IRIGC-M&MTC, the two sides inked the agreement for joint production of over six lakh AK-203 assault rifles at a manufacturing facility in Uttar Pradesh's Amethi besides firming up another pact on military cooperation for 10 years.

However, the two sides could not conclude the proposed logistics support agreement.

The statement said both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership and underscored that as major powers with common responsibilities, this important relationship continues to be an anchor of global peace and stability.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told a media briefing that the '2+2' dialogue had extensively discussed the Indo-Pacific and India's security concerns.

"India is currently cooperating extensively with Russia in areas that involve the region, such as the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor, and also extending cooperation in the Indian Ocean," he said.

Asked about the possibility of US sanctions on the S-400 missile deal with Russia, Shringla said: "I think there is a sense that the S-400 is a legacy contract going back to 2018. Supplies have begun this month and will continue to happen."

He said both India and Russia conduct an independent foreign policy and there is no "need to look at our relationship in the light of any other relationship that is there".

"We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend. The relations between our countries are developing and we are looking into the future," Putin said in his initial remarks.

Modi said Putin's second visit abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic reflected his personal commitment to the India-Russia ties.

"There have been many fundamental changes at the global level in the last several decades. A lot of geopolitical equations have emerged. But India-Russia friendship has been a constant among all these variables," he said.

"Both the countries have not only cooperated with each other without any hesitation but have also taken special care of each other's sensitivities. It is truly a unique and reliable model of inter-state friendship," Modi said.

It is learnt that the Indian side raised the eastern Ladakh border row and there was a discussion on the S-400 missile defence deal.

While there were nine government-to-government agreements, 19 others were commercial pacts in an array of areas.

''I warmly thank H.E. President Putin for his visit to India. We exchanged very useful ideas for expanding our strategic, trade & investment, energy, connectivity, defence, science & technology and cultural cooperation. We also shared views on important global and regional issues," Prime Minister Modi later tweeted.

Separately, talking to the media, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the S-400 deal has a very important meaning for the Indian defence capability and it is being implemented despite the US attempting to "undermine" the cooperation.

The joint statement said both sides exchanged views on the COVID-19 pandemic and highly appreciated the ongoing bilateral cooperation especially with respect to the 'Sputnik-V' vaccine.

The two sides expressed confidence that early mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates will further facilitate the movement of persons between the two countries and agreed to fast track the formalities in this regard.

Shringla described the summit talks Modi and Putin as "highly productive".

Asked whether India raised the issue of the eastern Ladakh standoff, the foreign secretary only said all concerns relating to India's security were discussed.

On economic ties, the two sides noted that the bilateral trade does not reflect the potential of strength and depth of the India-Russia strategic partnership.

"The leaders stressed the need for greater efforts to achieve the trade target of USD 30 billion by 2025. In this regard, they placed a strong emphasis on new drivers of growth for long-term cooperation," the joint statement said.

The two sides also underscored the need for the commencement of negotiations on Trade Agreement between India and The Eurasian Economic Union.

On Afghanistan, the two leaders reiterated strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan while emphasizing the respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and non-interference in its internal affairs.

"They also discussed the current humanitarian situation and decided to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people," the joint statement said.

It said the two sides reaffirmed that the emerging regional security architecture should be free, open, transparent and inclusive, based on universally recognized principles of international law and aimed at maintaining international peace and security.

"Both sides emphasised the importance of deepening regional economic cooperation to ensure sustainable socio-economic development and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including the expansion of cooperation within the framework of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in such key areas as transport, energy and trade," the statement said.

Ahead of the summit, the two countries held inaugural '2+2' foreign and defence dialogue, attended by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Russian counterpart Gen Sergey Shoigu.

Separately, Rajnath and Shoigu co-chaired a meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission during which the two sides inked the agreement for joint production of over six lakh AK-203 assault rifles at a manufacturing facility in Uttar Pradesh's Amethi and extended the pact on military cooperation for 10 years (2021-31).

The rifles will be manufactured for the Indian armed forces at a cost of around Rs 5000 crore. The 10-year pact on military cooperation is a renewal of an existing framework.

"The pandemic, the extra-ordinary militarisation and expansion of armament in our neighbourhood and the completely unprovoked aggression on our northern border since early summer of 2020 have thrown in several challenges," Singh said without naming China.

At the same time, he said India is confident of overcoming these challenges with the strong political will and inherent capability of its people.

"Recognising that its development needs are colossal and that its defence challenges are legitimate, real and immediate, India seeks partners who are sensitive and responsive to India's expectations and requirements," the defence minister said.

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