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India-Russia relationship a ‘no-brainer’ – foreign minister 

Ties with Moscow serve New Delhi’s interests as much as relations with Washington do, the top diplomat says 

India’s close relationship with Russia is as important for New Delhi as ties with Washington, as both serve the national interest, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – who recently returned from a five-day visit to Moscow – said on Wednesday. 

Speaking at an event to launch his latest book ‘Why Bharat Matters’, Jaishankar emphasized India’s emerging status as a global player. Part of being ‘Bharat’ (the name of India in various local languages) means being “clear about your own interest” and not being swayed by external forces, Jaishankar said. “You want to look nice in front of other people to a point where it is not necessarily against your own interests.” 

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Commenting on India’s relationship with Russia and the former Soviet Union, which has flourished since the 1950s – and also on engagement with the US – Jaishankar said: “Look at the map of this big landmass. And remember [the basics of] statecraft. Which is: your neighbor’s neighbor is your friend. It’s a no brainer.” 

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He argued that India’s ability to play a bigger role in geopolitics has increased over the past decade, playing a transformative role in foreign policy.  “Our [India’s] footprint has increased, our weight has increased in many ways, our confidence has grown, we are more naturally expressive of what we are… I would say, it’s a different world and it will be different in the next 10-15 years,” the foreign minister said.

Amid scrutiny from the West over India’s increasing economic and strategic ties with Moscow, Jaishankar maintained that the relationship is “very important” as it has “saved” India at certain times. Reacting to what India has viewed as a Western media “meltdown” over his recent visit, Jaishankar said he is looking at the situation from an “Indian perspective.”  

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Jaishankar was on a five-day visit to Moscow last week, during which the sides signed several bilateral agreements. Over the past two years, India has ramped up imports of Russian commodities, particularly oil and coal, and strategic items including defense hardware, despite Western sanctions on Moscow.

During the book launch, Jaishankar also reflected on India’s ties with its neighbors, China and Pakistan, and suggested: “If we had been more Bharat, we would have had a less rosy view of our relationship with China.”

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‘Bharat’ is being championed as “a belief and an attitude” by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “At the end of the day, the term Bharat means: don’t let other people define you. Try and define yourself,” Jaishankar had said last month, explaining his interpretation of the word. 

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Citing exchanges of letters between India’s first prime minister following independence, Jawaharlal Nehru – and freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was the first home minister of India – Jaishankar pointed out differing views expressed by the two figureheads, reflecting the complexities of India’s relationship China.

According to Jaishankar, Beijing had a very “ingrained hostility” to Washington at the time “which was not always warranted.” “Mind you, the Americans did a lot to deserve it”, he noted. He also recalled one of the last comments of Sardar Patel on foreign policy, in which he questioned why India was so distrustful of America and suggested that India should not let China influence New Delhi’s ties with Washington.  

The foreign minister’s comments come at a time of frosty relations with Beijing due to border disputes, which in 2020 resulted in violent clashes, killing soldiers on both sides. In 2022, the two parties disengaged in the Gogra-Hot Springs border area in the western Himalayas, following extensive diplomatic and military talks, but friction remains. The 20th round of negotiations as part of efforts towards disengagement and de-escalation in October last year did not indicate any clear breakthrough.

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