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Transcript of Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s visit to Russia (July 09, 2024)

July 10, 2024

Shri Randhir Jaiswal, Official Spokesperson: Welcome to this press briefing by Foreign Secretary on the visit of Honorable Prime Minister of India to Russia, his official visit, which has just concluded. Along with Foreign Secretary Shri Vinay Kwatra, we also have our Ambassador, Vinay Kumar, Ambassador of India to the Russian Federation, on the dias with us. With that may I invite Foreign Secretary Sir to make his opening remarks.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Friends from the Media, thank you for coming this afternoon for this special briefing on Prime Minister's visit to Russia. Since we are little short on time we have to run it through little quickly.

I would first like to start by indicating to you the broad, major programming elements of the visit, of the Prime Minister to Russia for the 22nd Annual Summit between India and Russia, which is led by the Prime Minister on our side and the President of Russia on the Russian side.

The first part was the ceremonial welcome and the Guard of Honor at the airport on arrival. Prime Minister was received by the Deputy Prime Minister Excellency Denis Manturov. Second, a major component of the programme was a private dinner held by the Russian President for the Prime Minister of India last night as a special gesture. Third, this morning the Prime Minister's interaction with the Indian community. We have a sizeable Indian community in Russia, close to 25,000 to 30,000. Fourth, the Prime Minister laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier earlier today. Thereafter the Prime Minister visited the Rosatom exhibition place, where he was accompanied by President Putin.

Next, the two leaders held, in fact, continued their detailed discussions at the Kremlin today. The first round of detailed, extensive, wide-ranging discussion between the two leaders took place actually at the private dinner yesterday and the discussions earlier today were essentially a continuation of some of the important areas of bilateral cooperation and regional developments, at the talks between the two leaders today. The last major element of the Prime Minister's visit programme was the highest national honor which was conferred on the Honorable Prime Minister, the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle. I am sure all of you had a chance to watch it live as it was being conferred; for Prime Minister's outstanding contribution to India-Russia ties, you would know that this award was announced in 2019.

In terms of focus areas of discussion between the two leaders, a broader point here is that the agenda of discussion between the two leaders was principally economic, dominated the discussions both at the dinner yesterday and earlier today, but also included elements relating to cooperation between the two countries in the political sphere, larger space of economic engagement covering extensively trade, capital linkages, energy, science and technology cooperation. Defense and Security was also another element of the discussion and the larger development of a situation regionally and globally.

The two leaders also reviewed status of bilateral engagement and multilateral groupings including BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the United Nations. As I said, the major thrust of the discussion was on economic engagement. A significant component of it was also devoted to how partnership between India and Russia can also give fillip to Make in India and other manufacturing partnerships that give fillip to Atmanirbharta in India across a whole range of economic areas, economic domains. A significant element of today's discussion in terms of greater and stronger economic partnership also focused on connectivity corridors. In this regard, the two leaders spoke about the new proposed Eastern Corridor, which is from Chennai to what is called Chennai-Vladivostok Corridor.

From our side, the Prime Minister took up the need to broad base the trade basket between the two countries and in this regard spoke about greater market access for Indian goods, both in the agriculture and in the industrial sector. The two leaders also focused on important areas in the economic domain that link with the growth of different sectors in both countries, in particular fertilizer supply from Russia to India, which is directly linked to the crop production and the farmer's yield in India.

As I said earlier, the Make in India economic partnership centered around manufacturing, energy trade. The two leaders also spoke about need to move forward on India-Eurasian Economic Union Trade and Goods Agreement. We have had one round of discussions between the two countries and it is expected that this would be expedited in months ahead. In terms of specific targets, as you would see in the joint statement which will be available on the website shortly, the two leaders have set a new target of 100 billion by 2030, alongside they have also agreed on a joint statement on economic cooperation specifically till 2030.

You could call it a detailed program under the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Technology, Economic and Cultural Cooperation between the two countries. Prime Minister strongly raised the issue of early discharge of Indian nationals who have been misled into the service of the Russian army. This was taken up strongly by the Prime Minister and the Russian side promised early discharge of all Indian nationals from the service of the Russian army. In the field of energy, besides the trade in hydrocarbons, the investment partnerships in this field were also discussed, in particular the partnership from India with Rosneft across the hydrocarbon domain as also Indian participation in the Sakhalin-I project. In nuclear energy field, the continuing cooperation on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Projects Unit 3 to 6 was discussed between the two leaders.

In terms of specific outcomes, if I could just list out for you, besides the joint statement of the Annual Summit and the joint statement on economic cooperation, which as I said would be available shortly on the website, there were nine other documents, again principally in the economic space that were signed between the two sides. I'll just list them out. First is the program of cooperation in trade, economic and investment spheres in Russian Far East for the period 2024 to 2029. I must mention that this is different from the joint statement on economic cooperation that has been signed between the two countries, so there is a subset which focuses on the Russian Far East area. Two, the MoU between the two Ministries of Environment and Climate Change. Three, MoU between the Surveyor General of India and its counterpart on the Russian side with regard to cooperation in the general space of cartography, but also the associated areas involved in that space. Fourth, the MoU between the National Center for Polar Research and Ocean Research under the Ministry of Earth Sciences in India and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute of the Russian Federation. Fifth, the Cooperation on the broadcasting area between Prasar Bharti and TV-Novosti on the Russian side. Sixth, Agreement on cooperation between the arbitration bodies on both sides, that is India International Arbitration Center and the International Commercial Arbitration Center at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation. Seventh, the joint investment promotion agreement between Invest India and the Joint Stock Company, ‘Management Company of Russian Direct Investment Fund’. Eighth, is the MoU between the Trade Promotion Council of India and All Russia Public Organization called ‘Business Russia’. And the last being in the field of pharmacopoeia, more focusing on exchange of information and capacity building between the relevant entities on both sides.

All in all, a highly successful Annual Summit which not only took detailed stock of status of bilateral partnership across the whole range of areas, but also laid out the vision of the two leaders for the partnership in years ahead, principally focusing on economic agenda in our cooperation partnership. And as I said, Prime Minister specifically also touched upon and raised strongly the return of Indian nationals in the Russian army and the two leaders also had an opportunity to discuss at length issues of regional importance for both the countries.

Let me stop here and take a round of questions.

Shri Randhir Jaiswal, Official Spokesperson: So we'll have one round of questions. Can we start here, please?

Catherine Triomphe: Thank you. My name is Catherine Triomphe. I work for Agence France-Presse. Two questions. One you mentioned briefly the return of Indian citizens now in the Russian army. Was there any deadline or timing given and how many Indian citizens are we talking about?

And the second question is related to Ukraine as well. Prime Minister Modi emphasized that he wanted a peaceful solution. As you probably know, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was really a major blow to peace efforts to see Prime Minister Modi hug President Putin. Can you please give us your reaction to this and what do you see as India's role in the Ukraine conflict? Thank you.

Siddhant: Hi, Sir, Siddhant from WION. Energy cooperation looks like a major outcome in terms of the conversation the Prime Minister mentioned about it as well. So if you can detail as to what kind of practical cooperation are we looking at after this summit?

Suhasini Haidar: This is Suhasini Haidar from the Hindu. Foreign Secretary, In addition to the previous question, I just wanted a clarification. If the return of Indian nationals in the Russian military is all Indian nationals in the Russian military, because there are some that seem to have said they don't want to return, they are being paid well and they'd like to stay on, so would it be for all Indian nationals or only those wishing to return? And when you say $100 billion in bilateral trade, is there a discussion really about balancing that trade? Because $60 billion is already in oil trade between the two countries, thank you.

Speaker: Thank you, thank you, Sir, for doing this. Congratulations on the successful visit and thanks to the Embassy for arranging this press conference. Technical question, did the question of co-production, joint production of aircraft, was it discussed? And the general type question, I was very surprised to learn prior to the visit that there are no accredited, duly accredited Indian journalists in Moscow at this point. So what does it tell us about the level of interest in Russia, in India about Russia? Thank you.

Speaker: TV BRICS International Media Network, and my question is about BRICS. What is India's position on the expansion of BRICS? From your perspective, what criteria new countries should meet for joining BRICS bloc and what region for the expansion of BRICS do consider as a priority? Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, thank you.

Valentina Shvartsman: Thank you very much, my name is Valentina Shvartsman, I'm a correspondent with RBC. Can you please specify whether the leaders discussed the latest strike on Children's Hospital in Ukraine, which was denounced by the Ukrainian authorities? And could you please tell if there were any new agreements on nuclear energy cooperation? Specifically, there was a report by Bloomberg that the two sides are due to sign a contract on supplies of uranium to the new station, which is coming in line in India. Thank you very much.

Sergei Strokan: Sergei Strokan from Kommersant. As a follow-up to the question on Ukraine, as President Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said that one of the hot-button issues was Ukraine on the agenda of the summit, and it was described in a constructive way. Can you spell out what is meant by constructive way? And related to that, as apart from in the Russian summit, this week, all eyes were focused on the mission of Prime Minister Orban, who was shuttling from one capital to another. Can we expect that India also can throw a hat in this peacemaking race? Thank you.

BrijMohan Singh: Sir namaskar main BrijMohan Singh, Sadhna TV, aur TV Asia ke liye. Ek prashna toh hamare sahyogi ne puch liya, Ukraine mei kal jo hamla hua tha. Aur dusra Sir prashna ye, aapne Aatmanirbhar ki ismei baat kahi jo 2 divsiya daura tha pradhan mantri ji ka, toh Sir isko thoda sa explain karenge detail mei jisse ki hum apne darshako ko bata sake, Aatmanirbhar bharat ko lekar ke aapne bataya, ki jo bilateral meeting hui jismai is mudde ko rakha gaya hai, toh kis roop mei rahega ye, aur iska kya prarup rahega aur kab tak iska hum logon ko, jo bhartiya janta hai unko iska labh kaise milega?

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] Sir, Namaskar. I am Brij Mohan Singh from Sadhna TV and TV Asia. One question was already asked by our colleague regarding the attack that happened in Ukraine yesterday. And the second question, Sir, is about the 'Aatmanirbhar' concept you mentioned during the Prime Minister's two-day visit. Could you please explain this in detail so that we can inform our viewers about Aatmanirbhar Bharat, which you mentioned, was discussed during the bilateral meeting. In what form will this take shape, and what will its framework be? How and when will the Indian public benefit from this?

Speaker: [Inaudible] from RT. My question is whether the leaders have discussed any long term agreements on oil imports, because that's what we learned from the report. Does India see it important to have a larger discount on oil imports from Russia? And will India continue importing energy resources despite continuous criticism of its Western partner? And as addition, if I may, since the agreements on Far East have been signed, India has provided a line of credit, 1 billion line of credit, years back. Are there any updates on that? Or what is the status of that? Thank you so much.

Rishikesh: Sir, Rishikesh from PTI. So has India raised the issue of delay in supply of defense equipment, or especially spare parts some of Indian platforms?

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you. I think I'll first take up the bucket of issues as a collective rather than specifically relating to the bilateral discussions between the two leaders, when it comes to the specifics of economic agenda of cooperation, where does the energy cooperation fit into it, oil trade, what does the specifics of energy discussion actually mean going forward, Atmanirbharta, Make in India program and how does the specifics of bilateral cooperation actually link up to the Make in India partnership.

So, you know, as I mentioned in my opening remarks and as you would notice from also the list of Agreements and the MoUs signed during the visit which I listed out, it's very very clear that the economic agenda dominated the discussions between the two leaders. It was prioritized not just in a generic sense in terms of, you know, the stock taking of what we do, but the two leaders actually went into great detail in certain areas, both in terms of what are the challenges that the bilateral trade, economic and investment partnership currently faces and what are the steps that the two systems should take to address some of these challenges going forward, number one.

Number two, in terms of future areas of partnership, building on what we have in terms of our existing relationship. So, when we talk of trade, as somebody rightly observed that the current volumes of trade are already quite significant and high, which is at roughly $65 billion and whether the $100 billion target is simply a question of rebalancing.

The trade basket in general is a continuously growing and an evolving feature of any trade relationship. Its segments get positioned differently across the trade basket. Some cases there is an imbalance, some cases the trades are balanced. But I think when we talk of $100 billion trade, we are not just talking about balancing aspect of the trade relationship, but we are also talking about the expansion of the trade. And that expansion is expansion and the broad basing of the trade basket of different goods that are exchanged between the two countries, that are traded between the two countries.

So, $100 billion target is, first of all, an expression by the two leaders of the ambition that they have set for the larger economic relationship and within the larger economic relationship on the specific trade relationship. Two, it's also a very clear direction to the two systems that they need to really put in now efforts to broad base the trade basket and to, of course, make it more sustainable as we go along. That's what I would, you know, put to you in terms of how the two leaders looked at the trade relationship.

Now, in the wider basket of economic relationship, energy cooperation is naturally a very important feature. It's not just an important feature in terms of the volume that the energy captures in the bilateral trade, but it is also a very crucial segment when it comes to the energy security of India. So, when we look at energy partnership between India and Russia, I think an important perspective to position there is, what the energy security interests of India are. Two, how does this energy security also feed into a stronger supply chain of downstream industries that use this energy back home in India? So, that is one segment of the energy partnership. As you know, India has always also had investment linkages with the Russian energy ecosystem. Sakhalin-1, Indian participation in the Sakhalin-1 is not a new investment focus. It's been there for the last several years. So, the two leaders, when they spoke of cooperation in this sector, they did focus on how exactly to strengthen that partnership. In the similar way, how exactly India, including in particular through the government-to-government route, could also build partnership with Rosneft and other energy entities.

So, if you were…to your question on energy, Siddhant, if you look at this, it featured as a very comprehensive segment within the larger economic piece that the two leaders focused on. And energy security, and if I could just take a moment to add, also the fertilizer security in this case because India is a large importer of fertilizers, in particular the phosphatic and the potash fertilizers from Russia, and that has always been an important feature which connects back to the requirements of the Indian agriculture and the Indian farmers. So that Prime Minister focused very heavily on it and on the need to consolidate and build on that relationship. I would not, given its crucial significance for the Indian agriculture industry and the larger framework of fertilizer security, I would not position it as a simple trade item. I will position it as a larger item of strong economic security need in the field of agriculture.

With regard to the few set of questions on the return of Indian citizens working in the Russian army, there are two parts to it. Ma'am, you asked here about the total numbers. We have mentioned this in the past, that while we do not have the precise indication of the specific numbers, we expect or anticipate them to be roughly between 35 to 50, total number of Indian nationals, out of which 10 Indian nationals, we have managed to bring them back to India through very active efforts on our own and also in partnership with the Russian system. Prime Minister raised this issue very strongly, that we should try and get back all Indian nationals back to India as early as possible. And as I mentioned to you, there was a sense of promise from the Russian side on that. Now the two systems will work on it and see how exactly and how expeditiously we can get them back into the country.

The third set of questions, if I could just take them together, relating to Ukraine. (inaudible) I said all. That's what is our…that has been our position with the Russian side. And as I said, when we work through, this has to be worked through in the processes. And we will see how the details of it emerge during the process and naturally we will decide accordingly.

With regard to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, yes, this featured between the two leaders, both at the private discussions at the dinner yesterday and also in talks today. Look, I will, you know, we have given our position on Russia-Ukraine several times in the past, but let me limit today to what the Prime Minister said to the media quite openly today in his opening remarks. And I think that sets out very clearly how we look at the conflict.

In terms of the death of the innocents yesterday, Prime Minister was very clear and categorical in expressing his concern and regret at the loss of these innocent lives, including in particular the children yesterday. And you would have seen that, I'm not trying to paraphrase Prime Minister's remarks because he said it openly, he clearly said, roughly translated into English, that the solution to this conflict is not to be found on the battlefield. This was a very rough translation of what Prime Minister said. And that it is possible only through dialogue and diplomacy. For those, you know, who follow Hindi, he said, 'Yuddh ke maidan mei samadhan sambhav nahi hote" just to capture the preciseness of what the Honorable Prime Minister said. And that's what I would limit myself to because that captures a sense of our view on what happened yesterday.

Prime Minister also said at his remarks today, open to the press, that India would do and is willing to offer all possible support, contribution and cooperation required to, you know, address this particular challenge of Russia-Ukraine conflict and find peaceful solutions to it, and the two leaders, as Prime Minister said, had a very detailed discussion. Several interesting ideas came forward. Some new thoughts also came forward. So from our side, as Prime Minister said, we are ready to make all possible contribution that can be made to arrive at peace and stability when it comes to Russia-Ukraine conflict.

On the question of BRICS that you asked, look, I don't want to get ahead of ourselves in terms of what the BRICS Sherpas are currently discussing. You are aware that the last round of BRICS expansion took place in Johannesburg, at the Johannesburg Summit. Currently the BRICS senior officials and Sherpas are busy discussing the guidelines and different models that could be considered by the BRICS Leaders’ for its future expansion. And I think it would not be correct for me to really comment because those are ongoing discussions, ongoing negotiations, and thereafter each country would need to look at who these specific applicants are, wanting to be part of the expanded BRICS format. But that's a question we will address only after the BRICS senior officials have arrived at a consensus piece which clearly spells out what would be the guidelines to look at when we talk of the BRICS expansion.

With regard to the nuclear energy component, there was a question. As I mentioned, the India-Russia cooperation on Kudankulam nuclear power plants, the fuel supply relating to that plant, especially for its units three to six, three, four, and then five and six, that was very much a part of a discussion between the two leaders. And we hope to move forward on many of the fuel supplies issues quickly.

With regard to the delay in the spare parts of the defense equipment, yes, that was raised by the Prime Minister and the both sides had a general sense of agreement that this would be expedited, including through setting up joint venture partnerships in India, to look at some of these spare parts, particularly the more critical spare parts, so that we do not continue to…or we are able to address this challenge in a more meaningful and sustainable way. When they spoke of defense, I would not like to have a specific comment to the co-production of aircraft like you, but in the general space of defense, the larger domain of co-production was definitely emphasized by both the leaders. We already have some good examples of co-production in the field of defense, and we would very much like to both countries…both leaders would very much like to build on that and add on new equipment if need be, and if possible, new platforms, which can be included as part of co-production, successful achievements between India and Russia. I'm just trying to see if there is, I think I've probably answered most of them.

Yeah, journalist one. Look, I take your point. You know, presence of Indian journalists here, and the journalists reporting from here on Russia, on India-Russia relations are two different things, and I think the way India-Russia partnership has remained so steady, so reliable over a period of last several decades has remained consistent, consistently upward curve across the various areas. Clearly, when the two countries talk of people-to-people, greater people-to-people partnership, I think the greater cooperation in the field of journalism, including, if possible, to presence, could naturally be one of the elements that the two systems could look at. Thank you very much. Thanks.

Shri Randhir Jaiswal, Official Spokesperson: With that, ladies and gentlemen, we come to the close of this press briefing. Thank you very much.

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