Sergey Lavrov has been Foreign Minister of Russia for 17 years. Perhaps the longest serving Foreign Minister in the world

by K Natwar Singh

On 15 August 1947, all countries except the Soviet Union sent their greetings and good wishes to New Delhi. On Gandhiji’s assassination on 30 January 1948, Marshal Joseph Stalin did not condole the Mahatma’s passing away. Jawaharlal Nehru sent his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit as Ambassador to Moscow in 1947. During her two-year stay in the Soviet Union, Stalin ignored her and did not receive her.

Stalin’s view was that India was not a truly independent country being a member of the “British Commonwealth”, which was an imperial set up.

It was after Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953, the change in Indo-Soviet relations occurred. Then came Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to the USSR in June 1955. He was received with great warmth, respect and friendship. For the next 35 years, Indo-USSR relations could not have been closer. The icing on the diplomatic cake was the visit of Nikolai Bulganin,  Nikita Khrushchev to India in 1960.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Delhi on 6 and 7 April. The Indian External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, at the opening of the joint press conference at the conclusion of the meetings between the two ministers said, “Though the world has changed in the last seven decades and there have been different governments on both ends, our ties, I am sure Minister Lavrov would agree, have remained uniquely strong and steady. And the reason for that has been our consistent ability to identify and update our shared interests. We are both cognisant of the multi-polar and rebalanced nature of international relations today. We both understand the importance of our relationship to global peace, security and stability…”

A whole gamut of bilateral issues was discussed, on which there were no differences. On unfolding developments in Afghanistan, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar observed, “For India what happens in Afghanistan impacts our security directly. I shared our approach that a durable peace there would require harmonising of all, both within and around that country. The peace process must be based on foundational principles to which we all subscribe. And a political solution should mean an independent, sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan.”

This is to my mind is confusing hope with facts. Afghans are only at peace with each other, when they are at war with each other. The Taliban may be lying low, but could become dangerously active any time. The next complexity is the attitudes and interests of Pakistan, China and Iran. The objectives of Pakistan and China are clear—keep Indian involvement to the very minimum.

In the press conference he said that ties between India and Russia “are valuable, mutually respectful and they are not subject to political fluctuations”. The ministers discussed energy including nuclear energy, peaceful exploration of space, transportation, infrastructure projects, including in the Russian Far East and in the Arctic. He elaborated that in this regard Russia intended to organise a meeting of co-chairs as well as a scheduled meeting of intergovernmental Russian-Indian Commission on trade and economics, scientific and technological as well as cultural cooperation. The ministers also discussed bilateral military cooperation including state of art weapons manufacturing.

To a question about military cooperation between China and Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov’s answer was that, “these relations do pursue a goal of establishing a military alliance”.

From New Delhi the Russian Foreign Minister flew to Islamabad, thus putting Pakistan also on the high table, in the sub-continent.

In his meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi he said, “We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including supplying Pakistan with special military equipment.”

Moscow is in touch with the Taliban after stepping up its involvement in Afghanistan. I don’t recall when a Russian Foreign Minister last visited Pakistan. There seems to be a wind of change in Russia-Pak relations.