Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of External Affairs of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, New Delhi, April 6, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
My friend Subrahmanyam Jaishankar,
Our talks were constructive, useful and trustworthy as is usual in relations between Russia and India.
By tradition, our relations stand out for mutual respect. They are intrinsically valuable and not subject to opportunistic fluctuations. We were pleased to state that our bilateral political dialogue has remained dynamic despite the coronavirus pandemic. We share the view that this emphasises the maturity and high sustainability of our relations that are described in documents, signed at the highest level, as a specially privileged strategic partnership.
We paid much attention to the need to draft the agenda of forthcoming bilateral contacts, including at the highest level. I refer to the visit by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to the Republic of India. I conveyed a verbal message to my colleague from the President to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on these and other issues.
We agreed to make joint efforts in overcoming the pandemic-caused decline in trade. We intend to build up our investment cooperation under the national programmes of our countries. We paid special attention to energy, including nuclear energy, peaceful space exploration and transport infrastructure projects in the Far East and the Arctic. Meetings of the co-chairs of the intergovernmental Russia-India commission on trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation and its regular session will facilitate the implementation of these tasks.
We recognised the need to step up work on the updated intergovernmental agreement on mutual protection of investment and to increase the share of national currencies in mutual settlements.
Development of trade and economic cooperation with New Delhi is one of the priorities of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Proceeding from the previous agreements, we hope for an early start of the talks on a free-trade zone between the EAEU and India along the lines of mutual benefit.
We discussed the state of and prospects for bilateral military-technical cooperation (MTC), including the joint production of the latest weapons in India. Russia remains India’s leading external contractor in this strategically important area. I would like to note that we are the only partner that is giving India cutting-edge military technology. We are convinced that further deepening of MTC meets the national interests of both countries. That said, we respect the right of our Indian friends to diversify their ties in this area.
We praised the development of cooperation in peaceful space exploration, laying special emphasis on such areas as manned flight programmes, rocket engine production and satellite navigation.
An exchange of opinions on key contemporary themes and pressing regional issues revealed identical or similar views. In this vein, we discussed such issues as a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, the Syrian crisis, the situation around Iran’s nuclear programme and the developments in Myanmar. We reviewed the situation in Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific Region as a whole, including our ties with ASEAN. Both ministers emphasised the importance of preserving ASEAN’s central role in the different formats that have taken shape in the region. We highly praised close bilateral cooperation in the world arena, including such venues as the UN, SCO, G20, and at BRICS, which India is chairing this year.
We noted the demand for cooperation in the RIC format and the East Asia Summit. We are grateful to our Indian colleagues for their responsible approach to world affairs and close coordination of positions on the issues that are important to our countries. India’s membership of the UN Security Council in 2021-2022 will further promote this coordination.
I am satisfied with the results of the talks and our mutual desire to expand versatile cooperation between our countries.
I invited my colleague and friend to pay a return visit to the Russian Federation. I hope to see him before too long.
Question (retranslated from English): Political trust and military cooperation between Russia and China have been growing of late. It gives rise to rumours about the possibility of a military alliance. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry think that there is movement in that direction?
Sergey Lavrov: No. Our bilateral documents approved at the highest level during Russian-Chinese summits have it that our relations have reached the best level ever throughout the whole of history but they are not aimed at establishing a military alliance.
It is not only in connection with Russian-Chinese relations that we hear speculation about military alliances. There are also rumours about the continuing promotion of such projects as setting up a “Middle East NATO” and recently there has even been talk of an “Asian NATO”.
Today we exchanged opinions on this matter. We and our Indian friends have a common position that this would be counterproductive. We are interested in making our cooperation inclusive and keen for it to work towards something and not against anyone.
Question (to both ministers, retranslated from English): Is it possible that the Russian vaccine Sputnik V could be approved for emergency use in India? Have you discussed the possibility of Russia purchasing the Indian vaccine COVAXIN?
Sergey Lavrov: We maintain close contacts with our Indian friends. The Russian Direct Investment Fund is entering into contracts with several Indian counterparties for the production of a total of 750 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. It has become possible thanks to the production facilities available in India. I do not rule out that further cooperation in this area could encompass vaccine production in Russia. Specialists should discuss it and proceed on the basis of the maximum effectiveness of such cooperation.
Question: How would you comment on the latest statements made by Ukrainian officials and officers about the situation in Donbass? How close is the region to escalation? What is the United States’ and Europe’s stance on this matter?
Sergey Lavrov: There have been many analytical articles and reports on this score. We are concerned about it. We are expressing our concerns to our European colleagues. We hope that Washington also has a similar understanding.
Unfortunately, so far, our Western colleagues’ actions and reactions to the build-up of military infrastructure and the redeployment of troops to the line of contact in Donbass have been disappointing. They continue to believe they absolutely have to support the Ukrainian government in every possible way, including its unacceptable actions and statements.
President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky and the officials responsible for the work of the Normandy format and the Contact Group on Donbass keep saying the Minsk Agreements are only needed to preserve Western sanctions against Russia. Either they demand a full revision of the deal, or they propose to disrupt the agreed formats by inviting openly pro-Ukrainian representatives to the Normandy format and the Contact Group meetings. All this is regrettable. We have not seen any reaction to these statements from our Western colleagues, although Kiev has obviously been violating all the Minsk Agreements.
Now Kiev has moved from criticising the political framework for resolving the Donbass crisis to threats of military action. I hope this will finally give a jolt to the serene attitude of European capitals. I hope they will demand that Zelensky comply with the Minsk Agreements in full – in order to actually start moving (through dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, as required by the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements) towards the elimination of security threats and the cessation of attacks on civilian facilities that continue to take lives (this is far from the first time). That direct dialogue should be an instrument for negotiating the final status of the regions in question and planning elections there on the terms agreed with Donetsk and Lugansk. This is nothing new. Unfortunately, when the Normandy format meets in one capacity or another – at the level of leaders, representatives or members of the foreign ministries – we do not see any vigorous effort on the part of our French and German colleagues to talk some sense into the Ukrainian side. There have been too many recent facts that call for this to be done urgently.
Question (translated from English): Moscow is playing the leading role in the peace process in Afghanistan. Power can be shared with the Taliban. Will that help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan? As a major power and a major force in the region, can Russia assume responsibility as a guarantor of security in Afghanistan? In what areas can Russia and India cooperate in Afghanistan?
Sergey Lavrov: The Taliban members are part of Afghan society. The decision on achieving a settlement in Afghanistan must include the participation of all political, ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan; otherwise it will lack sustainability. This decision must rely on a balance of interests of these groups, including representation in government bodies. Any other approach that leaves a particular group out of the process will not lead to a realistic and sustainable agreement, and will include the risk of renewed hostilities, which is not what the participants of the current process are trying to achieve.
We hope that the agreements concluded between the United States and the Taliban under the previous US administration will be implemented, because, indeed, at some point they created a chance to reach an agreement between the warring factions. It will be sad if they fail to materialise.
With regard to ensuring Afghanistan’s security, it primarily depends on how quickly and efficiently a settlement is reached. It should cover matters of polity, representation and security. For many years now, Russia has been doing much to strengthen the potential of Afghanistan’s security forces and the Afghan army: we train personnel and supply military products, occasionally on preferential terms or even for free.
We believe that following reunification and settlement of the political issues, the international community will be in a position to do a better job of helping to strengthen Afghan security forces. Of course, we cannot ignore the region-wide implications. Concurrently with resolving intra-Afghan settlement issues, we would welcome holding consultations and talks on ways to support this agreement with confidence-building and security-strengthening actions with the involvement of Afghanistan's neighbours. We see eye-to-eye on this matter with India.
We have invariably stood for Afghanistan’s neighbours and influential countries in the region participating in creating conditions that would allow the Afghans to agree among themselves. We believe that the Moscow format is the best arrangement for bringing external players aboard. We have convened it several times. Importantly, this goes beyond Afghanistan’s direct neighbours and includes the countries of Central Asia, India, Pakistan, China, Iran, the United States and Russia. We stand ready to hold corresponding consultations if the above countries believe they should be held. We look forward to this helping to galvanise intra-Afghan talks, which, as you are aware, are underway in the capital of Qatar, Doha, but have lately run into major hurdles and came to a standstill.
To reiterate, a number of factors are piling up that need to be figured out in order to decide on the course of action in the Afghan settlement, meaning an “external contribution” to the effort to create proper conditions. Today, Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and I agreed that our special envoys for Afghanistan will continue to be in close communication on a regular basis.
Question: Previously you noted that the United States is harshly "putting pressure" on India regarding its military-technical cooperation with Russia. Has this made it difficult to implement the existing agreements with New Delhi and negotiate new contracts?
Sergey Lavrov: 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.
American "calls" were not discussed today. We reaffirmed our commitment to the development of military technical cooperation. 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 the Make in India and Self-Sufficient India concepts. I did not feel any hesitation here on the part of our Indian friends and partners.