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Interview of Ambassador with Lenta.ru on 8th February, 2021

Posted on: February 11, 2021 | Back | Print

Q. Your excellence, you recently got vaccinated with Sputnik V. How are you feeling? Have you experienced any side effects and are you feeling safe now, after getting vaccinated? And would you recommend the vaccine to your fellow Indians? Somehow appeal to them to get vaccinated with the Russian vaccine?

Ambassador: I have taken the first dose of the Sputnik vaccine. My second dose is due next week. I feel perfectly fine. I don't have any side effects. A number of my colleagues in the embassy also have taken the vaccine and more intend to do so. The Sputnik vaccine is a registered vaccine in Russia.

But internationally also it has been accepted as a very effective vaccine. The recent publication of the Lancet report gives a very positive indication of the effectiveness of the Sputnik vaccine. So we are happy that the Sputnik vaccine is being viewed in a very positive light.

Q. When do you expect the vaccine to get approved in India and why is it taking so relatively long compared to, for example, other countries in the region that have approved this, such as Pakistan and Myanmar and others?

Ambassador: There is already very good cooperation between India - Russia in the pharmaceutical and vaccine areas with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year India supplied more than 80 tonnes of medicaments to Russia during the pandemic. RDIF is in touch with a number of world-class Indian companies for the production of Sputnik vaccine in India.

The third phase of sputnik vaccine trials are ongoing. These are expected to be completed in a few weeks time. As soon as the trials are completed, I'm confident that the Indian regulatory approvals will be provided. The Sputnik vaccine that will be produced in India will not only be for India, but we will also be for export to Russia and to third countries.

As you know, India is called the “Pharmacy Capital of the World”. We have more than 60% of the world's vaccine production capacity. We have shared our vaccines with a number of countries. As part of PM Modi’s announcement at the UNGA, in India today, we have supplied more than 10 million doses to friendly countries for their immediate vaccination needs. More than 5.8 million Indians have been vaccinated in the last three weeks and this number is expected to rise very much when the second phase of vaccination starts from February 13th. This will be the largest vaccination programme in the world. So India is a very major player in the area of vaccination and even the Secretary General of the UN recognized that India's vaccination production capacities will be a major major factor in the ability of the world to defeat the Coronavirus Pandemic and to bring back normalcy into Global health security. So we have every confidence that the cooperation between India and Russia will be important in this respect as we move forward.

Q: And what kind of role do you expect the Russian vaccine to play in India's vaccination plan? And do you plan to offer Russia your own vaccine - Covaxin?

After the regulatory approvals in India, I'm sure the Sputnik vaccine will be available for use in India; but after regulatory approvals and I'm sure this will be a major contribution to India's vaccination program, not just for Indians because India is a very large market, but also for third country and for exports to Russia. Some of the vaccines that are produced in India will be for India, but some of them will be for the third country exports as well.

Q. India-Russia have celebrated 20 years of privileged strategic partnership. How important is this relationship for Delhi and how would you describe the personal relationship between the two leaders - Prime Minister Modi and President Putin.

Ambassador: Our relations of Strategic Partnership with Russia - is one of the most important relations that India has in its foreign policy. The personal rapport between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin, the level of trust and confidence amongst our leaders is one of the pillars of our Strategic Partnership. We have celebrated 20 years of our Strategic Partnership. Recently Foreign Minister Lavrov called India-Russia relations as “very close, very special, very privileged and very strategic”. I think that's a very accurate description of the relations between India and Russia. We expect the visit of President Putin to India during this year as soon as the Covid Pandemic situation has been stabilized. We hope that this will be possible sooner rather than later. India & Russia expect to have high level contacts, starting from this month, to prepare for President Putin's visit to India. A number of high level contacts are planned in the next couple of weeks to ensure that our relations which are doing very well, are strengthened even further.

Q. Switching to another topic the India- China border skirmishes has flared up recently resulting in injuries on both sides. During the previous flare up, Moscow hosted talks between the Indian and Chinese defence ministers which apparently helped to somehow mediate the conflict. Is Delhi seeking Moscow's mediation this time? And also are you interested in military supplies from Russia in the light of this conflict?

Ambassador: India and China are in direct contact with each other through diplomatic and military channels. So there is no need for a mediation by any other country. However, we note with satisfaction that our two Ministers - our Minister of External Affairs, Dr S Jaishankar and our Minister of Defense, Mr. Rajnath Singh - when they visited Moscow last year had an opportunity to meet their Chinese counterparts to address an issue that is of importance to India, which is the current standoff between India and China in Ladakh. This problem has arisen due to the certain actions taken by China, which involved a disregard for commitments about minimizing troop levels and a willingness to breach peace and tranquility.

We have made it clear that India is prepared to move forward on the basis of restoration of the status quo without the use of force. We cannot agree to normalization of relations unless the disengagement on the border areas is agreed to. Our foreign minister Dr Jaishankar referred to “mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests” as the determining factor of India-China relations.

India has long standing defense ties with Russia. Our defense relationship with Russia is a critical factor in our security. We are very confident that Russia fully understands India's security needs and we are very satisfied in the manner in which Russia has responded to India's defense and security interests, including in the recent past.

Q. And could just speak about that more specifically. What were these requests from the Indian side?

Well, we have ongoing defense relations with Russia. Even during the pandemic period these were not disrupted. In fact, Russia has responded positively to every defense requirement that India has had. They have implemented very strictly all the contractual obligations entered between the Defense Ministries of both countries. So we are satisfied with the level of military support and supplies that Russia has provided to India.

Q: You said that, in the recent past. India has requested some specific arms in the light of the conflict.

Ambassador: Yes, this is an ongoing discussion between India and Russia, but I must say that any request that India has made, Russia has reacted positively to.

Q: As you know there is a new administration in the United States. Are you concerned that the Biden administration may try to pit Delhi against Moscow because it seems to be their strategy to create some sort of alliance in Indo-Pacific? And is there a possibility that India may stop purchasing S-400 from Russia under the pressure of the United States and what kind of pressure and sanctions that should be so that India abandons its plans to buy Russian arms?

Ambassador: India has a long term, long-standing relations of Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership with Russia. With the United States, we have a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. Our relations with each country stand on their own merits. India has an independent foreign policy. We take decisions based on our defense and security needs. The S-400 contract is presently being implemented according to the schedule indicated in the contract.

We believe that all our partners understand India's independent policy and India's pressing and essential defense & security needs. So India's position is clear and this is something that we have made known to all our partners.

Q. Let's talk about a topic that isn't really making much news here in Russia but has been going on for some months. It has now seen some foreign celebrities and activists getting involved and speaking about the farmer's protests in India. How significant is this event and what is the Indian government's plan to tackle this crisis because it's been going on for quite some time and doesn't seem that the farmers are going to cave in and give up on the protests anytime soon.

Ambassador: Well, the background to this is the passage by the Indian Parliament of three laws which are intended to expand market access and provide greater flexibility for farmers, to make the agricultural sector economically, and ecologically more sustainable. As you are aware, a large majority of our population depend on farming and on the agriculture sector.

This sector has been in the need for reform for over several decades. This is particularly relevant here. In Russia we have seen the transformation of the agricultural sector. Three decades ago, Russia had to import food grains. Today, Russia is an agricultural superpower. It has exported more than $29 billion worth of agricultural exports this year. This transformation has taken place because of the use of new market techniques, new technology, fertilizers and a number of other reforms. So reform in the agricultural sector is very important.

India is a democracy. We intend to address these issues in a manner that will be resolved through democratic procedures and ethos. There have been a number of discussions between some sections of the farmers who are protesting and the Indian Government. These discussions will continue. We believe that the Government will be in a position to address the concerns of all the farmers, provided there is a willingness for dialogue.

Today, our Prime Minister- Prime Minister Modi - addressed the Parliament to indicate that certain measures such as the Minimum Support Price will continue to be there. This was the one of the main concerns of the farmers. In such matters which involve the lives of millions of people, it is best that these issues are discussed through dialogue without external interference, especially by those resorting to strong opinions based on sensationalist social media, disinformation is neither accurate nor responsible.

We are confident that the Government's approach of dialogue will ensure that these problems will be resolved to the satisfaction of all.

Q. Russia and the United States - two major nuclear powers have recently agreed on extending the new START treaty for another five years. What is India's view on that given that India is also a nuclear power - it might be interested in seeing stability in the world?

Ambassador: We welcome the recent decision by Russia and the United States to extend for another five years, the new START treaty. This is a welcome development because it creates space for continuing dialogue between the two major nuclear powers, which is Russia and the United States. However, the multilateral arms control, non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament system needs further strengthening through the established multilateral fora - which is the Conference on Disarmament and at the UN. India will support all initiatives based on consensus that will strengthen the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime, to also multilateralize nuclear arms control through a step-by-step process and to ensure that nuclear threats, as well as threats relating to space, cyberspace and other weapons of mass destruction are addressed.

Q. Switching to a lighter topic the Indian government has recommended doing yoga as part of its post-COVID rehabilitation. Does the India government plan to cooperate with Russia in this specific matter - offering some guidance on some specific techniques or practices that may help Russian patients to recover faster? Or maybe the embassy itself plans hold some sort of online or offline classes for those who suffer from COVID

Ambassador: Yoga has been popular in Russia for many years. We are very happy that more and more people in different regions of Russia perform yoga and take to yoga for their health and well-being. Even during the pandemic period, yoga was very popular as a means of relieving stress and of ensuring balance between mind and body. Yoga is also useful in creating immunity to a broad range of diseases, including creating overall wellness and well-being - both for the person and also for the friends and family.

We have uploaded a video, in fact, which has been performed by Prime Minister Modi on the Embassy website. The Jawaharlal Nehru Center is also conducting yoga classes. We'd invite all to join online.

Let me also use this opportunity to wish all your readers very good health in the new year, especially during this stressful COVID times and we are confident that as the year progresses, hopefully life will return to normal by summer and we will all be able to enjoy the excellent summer season that is there in Russia.