How India showcased its diplomatic maturity while handling Russian and Chinese foreign ministers

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, arrived in Delhi last week, in full glare of the media. He was received at the Air Force statio...

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, arrived in Delhi last week, in full glare of the media. He was received at the Air Force station, Palam, and whisked through with protocol, due to his status. His visit was announced days before and there was widespread speculation on what would be discussed with India, Indian approach and global pressures.

Delhi had played host to a flurry of visitors, all seeking to compel India to change its stance on Russia, just prior to Lavrov’s visit. Lavrov arrived even when the US Deputy NSA, Daleep Singh, was in the city and the British Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, had just concluded her visit. Lavrov arrived from Beijing where he met his Chinese counterpart, attended a conference on Afghanistan and interacted with the Pakistan foreign minister. He was accorded the red-carpet treatment.

Compare this with the visit a few days back of the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, who arrived in Delhi from Kabul. The visit was unannounced because, as per the Indian foreign minister, S Jaishankar, the Chinese wanted it kept under wraps, possibly because they were not expecting any positive outcomes. There was no media covering his arrival. Lavrov’s visit was scheduled as part of a larger outreach by both India and Russia, while Wang Yi himself conveyed a desire to visit India.

Both Lavrov and Wang interacted with Jaishankar and also the NSA, Ajit Doval. However, Wang Yi’s request to meet the prime minister was ‘politely’ turned down, while Lavrov interacted with him. It was not scheduling issues that led to India turning down the request of Wang Yi but its intention of conveying that relations between India and China are not normal and hence this interaction is unacceptable. Further, India also sent a message that unless the LAC is resolved, Prime Minister Modi would not attend any summit in China.

Post the visit of Wang Yi, the Indian foreign minister addressed a press conference on the talks, where he highlighted India’s stance in unequivocal terms. The comments by the EAM were strong and firm. Jaishankar stated, “No, our relationship is not normal, given the presence of a large number of troops in contravention of the 1993-96 agreements.”

File image of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

It was also reported that Wang had invited both the EAM and NSA to visit China, both of whom turned it down stating resolution of the LAC is a priority prior to normalisation of ties. Wang Yi, on return to Beijing, addressed the Chinese media on his visit. He reiterated his statement, “China and India should place the border issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations.” Evidently, India and China did not see eyeball to eyeball in Delhi.

On the contrary, Lavrov had a press interaction with select media representatives where Russia could place its views before the world. Such an opportunity was rare, considering global restrictions on Russia. This was done based on trust between the two nations. It provided Lavrov a platform to explain why Russia was compelled to act as also his discussions in India and what they seek from India. In reply to a question, Lavrov stated, “You called it a war which is not true. It is a special operation; military infrastructure is being targeted. The aim is to deprive the Kyiv regime of building the capacity to present any threat to Russia.”

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Defending Indo-Russian ties, Lavrov added, “I believe that Indian foreign policies are characterised by independence and a concentration on real national legitimate interests. If India wants to buy something from us, we are willing to talk about it and work out a mutually beneficial agreement.” It was evident that Russia desires Indian support to help it ride through the current round of sanctions.

Jaishankar did not participate in the press conference. The Ministry of External Affairs only issued a brief statement detailing aspects covered in the discussion between the two foreign ministers. The statement mentioned that the two diplomats also discussed the implications of recent developments on trade and economic relations. It also mentioned that Russia gave its perspective on Ukraine, including ongoing talks, and India continued to insist on dialogue and cessation of hostilities. The PMO also issued a statement listing discussions that the prime minister had with Lavrov. The freedom and importance given to Lavrov as compared to Wang Yi displayed the importance India accords to friendly nations.

In both visits, India projected its independent foreign policy. It refused to bend to Chinese pressures and conveyed to China that unless the LAC is resolved bilateral ties would remain damaged. It debunked the Chinese demand of placing the border issue in the freezer while enabling growth in trade and diplomacy. Hopefully, China would have understood the Indian intent. India also did not back Russia in its actions in Ukraine and demanded a ceasefire and talks. It also offered to mediate. The prime minister would have conveyed a personal message to Putin through Lavrov, something he never did with Wang Yi, projecting differences between relations.

Lavrov was treated as a long-term ally, while Wang Yi as an unwelcome guest. As Lavrov stated, “Talks are characterised by relations which we developed with India for many decades. Relations are strategic partnerships... This was the basis on which we've been promoting our cooperation in all areas.”

When the Bangladesh war was about to commence, Indira Gandhi flew into Moscow seeking support. When Russia is being targeted by the West, Lavrov flew into Delhi seeking support. His meeting with the Prime Minister indicated that both nations share a bond which would remain in place despite global pressures.

The author is a former Indian Army officer, strategic analyst and columnist. Views expressed are personal.

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