Ahead of the India-Russia annual summit later this year, defence minister Rajnath Singh is expected to leave for a two-day visit from September 3- 4 for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) defence ministers meeting in Moscow. “SCO meeting is an opportunity for a face to face meeting to resolve the border standoff between India and China, where the Defence Minister’s acumen in dealing with the acrimonious issues will be tested to the hilt,” opines an Indian army veteran.
In fact, on the sidelines of the Army 2020 expo at Kubinka outside Moscow, last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu had told the local media there that he was looking forward to his meeting with “Rajnath Singh in Moscow next week.”
Confirming this, according to official sources, “Besides the defence minister, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar too is scheduled to leave for the SCO foreign ministers meeting which is slated for September 10.”
In a short period of four months this will be the defence minister’s second visit to Moscow. As has been reported earlier, the defence minister had visited Russia mid-summer for the Victory Day parade to mark the 75th anniversary of World War II. And in that visit on June 24th, Singh had talks with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.
India pulls out of KavKaz 2020.
From Sept 15 – 26, India was expected to send tri-service contingent to participate in the Russian Kavkaz 2020 strategic command-post exercise. In this exercise all the SCO for which SCO member states, including China and Pakistan, are expected to participate.
Late Saturday night (Aug 29,2020), India announced that it has withdrawn from the military drill citing the COVID-19 pandemic. In an official statement, it stated “Russia and India are close and privileged strategic partners. And, at the invitation of Russia, India has been participating in many international events. India has decided not to send a contingent this year to Kavkaz-2020, in view of the Pandemic. And the consequent difficulties in the exercise which also includes the arrangement of logistics. This has been conveyed to the Russian side.”
Sharing his views on the expected visit of the defence minister for SCO meeting, an Indian Army veteran Brig NK Bhatia says, “The forthcoming visit of Indian Defence Minister, to attend the SCO Defence Minister’s meeting is significant from Indian viewpoint in the backdrop of Indian standoff with China and its refusal to honour bilateral agreements that have kept the two sides in a state of battle readiness.”
“India’s withdrawal from the multilateral military exercises planned in the form of strategic command-post exercise in Russia’s Caucasus region from mid-September where 18 nations, including China and Pakistan was also to participate, is a clear indication of Indian uneasiness to have any contact with Chinese forces outside India until things settle down to India’s satisfaction. It would have surely sent a signal to the Chinese of Indian uneasiness to do any business with them until the lingering issues between the two sides remain,” Brig Bhatia opines.
The SCO as a regional grouping of Central Asian countries has focused on economic development and connectivity. While China has been propagating regional connectivity through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); the Indian focus has remained on promoting trade through International North-South Transport Corridor and access to Central Asia through Afghanistan using the Iranian port of Chabahar.
The Defence cooperation amongst SCO grouping has remained focused on Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) to tackle the menace of terrorism that has impacted almost all nations of the grouping. It calls for cooperation and joint efforts to tackle terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and organised crime. India has earlier participated in joint exercises of SCO with troops from China and Pakistan.
“As things stand today India would be faced with the dilemma of attending the SCO meeting and sharing the table with the very nations with whom it is in a state of stand-off; whether relating to border standoff or that relating to terrorism,” says Brig Bhatia.
In conclusion Brig Bhatia says, “The SCO meetings of Defence Ministers provides for an opportunity to tackle the bilateral issue of border stand-off with China on the sidelines of the meeting. As things stand today, any meeting is unlikely to be successful unless China is willing to step back from its unrealistic stand on LAC and agrees to a pull-out PLA troops to pre May positions. Some help from the Russians may help to resolve the issue.”