Amidst news of Russian soldiers landing in Pakistan for their first military exercise, there was welcome news for India when Moscow’s envoy in New Delhi extended unstinted support for last Thursday’s surgical strikes across the Line of Control.

Speaking to CNN-News18, Russian Ambassador to India Alexander M Kadakin said that the Russian Federation was the only country to say in plain words that terrorists come from Pakistan. What should be music to Indian ears is the ambassador’s categorical stand that India had been wronged and it was justified to take retaliatory action. “The greatest human rights violations take place when terrorists attack military installations and attack peaceful civilians in India. We welcome the surgical strike. Every country has right to defend itself,” he said.

Assuring India that it does not need to worry about Russia-Pakistan joint military exercise, he pointed out that the exercises didn’t take place in the “Pakistan-occupied Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir”.

The Russian envoy further said that “India should not be concerned about military exercises between Russia and Pakistan because the theme of the exercise is anti-terror fighting. It’s in India’s interests that we teach the Pakistani Army not to use itself for terror attacks against India. And the exercise was not held in any sensitive or problematic territories like the Pakistan-occupied Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir”.

File image of Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin. Getty Images

File image of Russian Ambassador to India Alexander M Kadakin. Getty Images

The announcement of Russia-Pakistan military exercise evoked concern in India and there were fears that New Delhi’s growing closeness to Washington had led Moscow to take such a decision. However, the Russians have for weeks tried to dispel an impression that Moscow was getting closer to Islamabad. Russia named Pakistan as the home of terror groups and allayed concerns in New Delhi’s foreign policy establishment when the ambassador stated that the small-scale military exercise was not held in, what he called “Pakistan-occupied Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Moscow daily Pravda published a commentary that stated that the exercises were “not an index of friendly relations”, but these were the first drills ever to be held with Pakistan. Before that, Russia abstained from military-political contact with Pakistan country, mainly because of very friendly relations with India in the military-political sphere and uncompromising opposition between India and Pakistan, Sergey Lunev, professor at the Oriental Studies Department of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations told Pravda.

The Modi-Putin meeting

Russia’s affirmation of faith in the relationship with India and its categorical stance on Pakistani support to terrorism must be used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reach out to Russian president Vladimir Putin when he visits India in the next fortnight. On the sidelines of the Brics Summit in Goa, Modi and Putin will hold an India-Russia Summit. Unlike his numerous meetings with the US president Barack Obama, the Indian prime minister has only met Putin twice apart from meetings at international conferences.

Growing India-US relations seemed to push India’s old and dependable partner Russia to the background, and the decision to upgrade ties with US to a strategic partnership level, and plans to sign the logistics agreement with Washington have naturally caused concern in Moscow.

Modi will use the October meeting with Putin in Goa to put their relations in perspective.

Russia remains India’s main partner for military technical cooperation with Russia accounting for 40 percent of India’s weapon imports. Additionally, the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is expected to progress smoothly. In September, the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) met in New Delhi to review the status of the ongoing bilateral projects and further broaden strategic cooperation in the critical areas of trade and commerce, energy, space and high technology.

At the end of the IRIGC meeting it was agreed to launch an industry-level Working Group to fuel energy cooperation, and collaboration in pharmaceuticals under the Russian “Pharma 2020” programme and an impetus on enhanced connectivity.

In fact, Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s Russia visit last month would have seen the two countries sign agreements through which Moscow will share real time intelligence on terrorism and cyber security. Postponed due to the Uri attack, this agreement will significantly enhance cooperation between the two in such a critical area.

Next year will mark 70 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations. As India deepens ties with the US it would be essential not to take an all-weather friend for granted. The Modi government must use multilateralism to strengthen ties with Russia and seriously look at its proposal for a Russia-India-China Forum that Moscow is keen to build.

An old and trusted ally should not be ignored while a new partnership is being forged with the US.

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Russia supports surgical strikes against Pakistan: India mustn’t neglect old friends