india russia defence deal: India, Russia discuss joint defence production in Central Asia

India and Russia, following their 2+2 ministerial meet of foreign and defence ministers on December 6, have exchanged a non-paper on how to increase engagement that could include joint defence projects in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) through existing Soviet-era defence factories in some of the republics in the region.

ET has learnt that India and Russia have exchanged a non-paper on increasing bilateral engagement and exploring joint projects in Central Asia, a region described by PM Narendra Modi as part of India’s extended neighbourhood.

The non-paper explores several areas of engagement, one of which is defence as India aims to become defence exporter. These central Asian countries use Russian defence equipment and the non-paper has suggestions on joint Indo-Russian defence production in some of existing Soviet-era defence factories in some of Central Asian republics to meet local demands as well as India’s demands, ET has reliably learnt. The Indian military has been using Soviet and Russian defence equipment for decades.

Russia has military pacts and arrangements with three of five Central Asians states (Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan) and has military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) led by Russia has been activated in Central Asia following the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Even before the August 15 development, Russia activated CSTO anticipating political changes in Kabul. Central Asian states remain wary of the radical Islam that could impact their secular societies.

A common point of cooperation between India and Russia in Central Asia is developments in the Afghan theatre and its spillover impact in the region. Another suggestion in the non-paper involves trilateral defence exercise between India-Russia and one of the Central Asian Republics, ET has learnt.

This comes close on the heels of India-Central Asia NSA-level meeting where Russia was also present and India Central Asia foreign ministers’ dialogue, while India prepares to host presidents of these Central Asian states for 2022 Republic Day. The proposed visit by the five Central Asian leaders will also mark 30 years of creation of diplomatic ties between the two sides.

Central Asian states are keen to collaborate with India on a host of fields including education, IT, pharmacy and healthcare besides counter-terror cooperation, sources said.

Russia, which still retains considerable influence in the resource rich Central Asian Region and is often considered guarantor of security for the five states in the region, has been nudging India to play an active role in the landlocked region where China has made inroads due to its geographical contiguity.

On December 6 at the maiden 2+2 meet ahead of 21st of India-Russia summit, India and Russia explored cooperation in Central Asia, Indian Ocean Region and ASEAN. As part of expanding partnership in Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, India is pushing to expand Chabahar Port and its optimum usage and reinvigorating International North South Transport Corridor as the two major connectivity projects.

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