MAY 18, 2018
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is headed to Sochi, a resort town in Russia for informal talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 21. He arrives early morning and will leave the same day. Like in Wuhan in China, PM Modi will hold several one-on-one discussion with Mr. Putin, and may have just one restricted bilateral involving other officials. Vladimir Putin will also host a lunch for PM Modi, but there will be no “guard of honour”. There will be no other minister accompanying the PM and no documents or joint statement is expected from this meeting either.
Sources told NDTV that the no frills attached visit would be “agendaless, flexible and would have no formalities in terms of protocol,” and would discuss several international and regional issues but not many domestic issues will be taken up as those are discussed at the annual summit between the two sides later in the year.
But talks on issues of energy cooperation in third countries and discussions on cyber security were not ruled out.
The tricky issues involving defence deals would not be brought up, sources said, even as reports have emerged that India trying to acquire 200 Kamov Ka 226T helicopters from Russia was on the agenda.
Defending informal summits as a new template for talks, government sources said that the PM had held such meetings with many countries including the last minute stopover at Lahore in 2014, and in Berlin to meet Angela Merkel last month, and with Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April. “‘We have had informal meetings with practically all major nations in the last 12-18 months,” sources said.
Describing Russia as “an old friend and trusted partner”, sources disputed claims there was need to work on the relationship which had lacked substance in the last few years since India’s proximity to the US had increased.
But is India recalibrating its relationship with the two giants Russia and China, given its divergence of views on several internationals issues with the US? Sources said, “We have communication channels open with both sides, and yes they do have a trust deficit – but we are not here to take sides, we talk to all countries and stakeholders and this serves our national interest”.
India has been upset with the US for imposing CAATSA (Countering America’s Enemies Through Sanctions Act) on Russia which has disabled New Delhi’s defence ties with the Russian defence companies and entities, and could jeopardise defence procurement, particularly the sale of S-400 air defence missiles. Along with this, sanctions on Iran are likely to affect India’s trade ties and the development of the Chabahar Port.
Reacting to the move, sources today said “as far as we are concerned we are not going to allow our defence requirements to be dictated by someone else.”
The US has also pulled out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) involving several major countries and their deal with Iran on its nuclear use. This is another issue where India has divergence with the Trump administration. But Indian authorities described themselves as “onlookers” and said they were “‘not party to the deal”.
Will there be more lake walks and tea talk? That is anyone’s guess – but sources say don’t look for ”any tangible outcomes” from these informal summits.