Over the years the United States has become India's major defence partner

NSA Ajit K Doval has been strong votary of Indo-Russian strategic partnership, notwithstanding his interest in Delhi’s engagements with major powers

NEW DELHI: The appointment of Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran as the Deputy National Security Adviser (NSA) -- a strong Russia hand -- reflects the growing number of Russophiles in the Modi government aimed at safeguarding strategic partnership and expanding the economic envelope.

Besides Saran, who is expected to return here in the near future, former Ambassador to Russia PS Raghavan, also credited with the growth in Indo-Russian ties, is convener of the National Security Advisory Board that advises the Indian Prime Minister.

Saran, a 1982 batch IFS officer, fitted well into Raghavan’s shoes when he took over the high-profile job in 2016 as the two countries expanded strategic and economic partnership and consolidated energy links, according to Russia watchers. Both Saran and Raghavan are also well versed with the Russian language that had helped in giving momentum to the partnership. NSA AK Doval has been strong votary of Indo-Russian strategic partnership, notwithstanding his interest in Delhi’s engagements with major powers. Doval played a crucial role in shaping the first Modi-Putin informal summit in Sochi amid US sanctions on defence purchases from Russia.

“Since 2014, PM Modi has paid special attention on Russia to address the perceived drift in relations of the two countries. He had realised the importance of this relationship for economic development, defence and security. The Joint Statement of 2014 during the visit of President Putin was termed as ‘Druzhba-Dosti: A Vision for strengthening the Indian-Russian Partnership over the next decade’. He has collected an excellent team who have deep understanding Russian world view and its basic determinants of foreign policy and who can help in developing closer relations with Russia,” explained Dr S D Pradhan, former Deputy NSA. 

“Ajit Doval the NSA, Pankaj Saran Dy NSA, PS Raghvan, Convenor of National Security Advisory Board are known Russian experts and have close links with the top policy makers of Russia. 

The latter two have served as our Ambassadors to Russia. The other Deputy NSA Rajinder Khanna (former R &AW Chief) is an expert on Islamic terrorism and knows the Russian views on this issue. The former Deputy NSA Dr Arvind Gupta (ex-IFS) too is a Russia expert who now heads VIF an important think tank,” he added. The Russia experts are expected to guide the relationship through the turbulent period in international relations, and their presence reflects Delhi’s commitment to nurture special ties with Moscow notwithstanding ties with other major powers, according to one of the persons quoted above. The challenge remains in pushing the economic envelope, he said.

In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of high-level visits to Moscow. While the Sochi Summit hogged headlines from substance to personal chemistry between the leaders, what largely went unnoticed were some of the other key visits to Russia by Indians. BJP general secretary and one of Modi’s key advisers Ram Madhav, for instance, visited Sochi to meet senior officials to discuss the Indo-Pacific construct among other issues. Cultural links were brought to the fore when ICCR chairman Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and other eminent scholars visited Russia.