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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Vladivostok on India-Russia 20th Annual Summit (September 04, 2019)

September 05, 2019

Spokesperson: Friends, Good afternoon and, Welcome to the special briefing from Vladivostok. You are aware that Prime Minister arrived earlier today morning and we already had the bilateral summit between the two leaders Prime Minister and President Putin. I have with me on stage the Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhle, the Ambassador of India and also Joint Secretary (ERS) who will be here to answer few questions but we will start with the initial remarks by the Foreign Secretary. Sir, over to you.

Foreign Secretary: Thank you Ravish. Prime Minister and President Putin have just concluded their 20th Annual Summit between India and Russia and I can describe this as very warm and very very productive meeting. The Prime Minister has described Russia as a reliable partner and a special friend and President Putin in turn has talked of taking India-Russia relations to new heights of cooperation. Prime Minister has of course has invited President Putin for the next summit in India and he has also accepted President Putin’s invitation to attend the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Russian Federation and the erstwhile Soviet Union in the 2nd World war next May, on the 9th of May in Moscow.

In a very special gesture President Putin took Prime Minister by boat to the new shipyard at Zvezda. This was a very significant gesture for two reasons firstly because it allowed for quality time between the two leaders, they spent more than two hours together discussing the whole range of issues and secondly to demonstrate the sheer commitment we have in the Russian Far–East now, which is becoming important from the economic perspective from the energy prospective and also from the prospective of the Indo-Pacific. This conversation was very productive. They went in great details on the bilateral relationship and subsequently in the talks held between the two delegations. Lot of focus went into the bilateral relationship and there was also some discussion on international issues of mutual interest. Now, in keeping with the decision at the last annual Summit that was taken by both leaders on the need to diversify this relationship from purely one limited to defense and civil nuclear to economic issues, the principle focus of the annual summit in Vladivostok this year has been to strengthen the economic relationship and in this regard a very detailed review has taken place. A number of ministers were present on the Russian side and both sides focused on how we can take the economic relationship to a new level. So, I just want to share some of the detail and some of the sense of the meeting. Although some issues were announced by the President and the Prime Minister in the press conference which has just concluded recently. Firstly, we had a major brake through in the energy sector. This is a sector from where we are looking to diversify our sources of supply and we are increasingly finding it attractive to buy oil and gas from the Russian Federation. But one of the important outcomes of the visit of the minister of Petroleum and Natural gas last week was that we agreed on a road-map of cooperation in the next 5 years in which we will concretely work on investments both ways. Indian investment in Russian fields, in exploration and exploitation, in transportation of energy to India as well as Russian investments in India in the downstream sectors. We are looking at investing in additional oil fields in Russia in what is called the eastern cluster. We are also looking at sourcing energy and in this regard President Putin has also acknowledged that there is a need for us to look at how they can supply Russian energy to India in a safe, secure and in a way in which costs are maintained. So the details of the discussion will be available in some of the documents that have been signed. But this appears to be a very important breakthrough for us. Energy is going to be a major pillar of the relationship. Second emerging pillar is the Vladivostok eastern economic forum summit and the focus of the Prime Minister in seeing how we can built relations with Russian Far-East and the Prime Minister will actually be elaborating on this in a greater way tomorrow when he addresses the eastern economic forum. But essentially speaking we are looking at not just the energy sector here, we are looking at the resources sector, we are looking at forestry sector, we are looking at the agriculture sector and Prime Minister proposed and President Putin was also very optimistic about manpower exports to this part of the world as you know that Russia has a shortage of labour and this is a potential area for cooperation. Now in this context the MOU which has been signed on opening a route between Chennai and Vladivostok assumes significance. Because it ensures there will be connectivity between the two major ports which will give sort of impetus to the cooperation between India and the Russian Far-East.

So this I think is the 2nd important outcome that we saw from the summit. Thirdly, we are going to have joint strategy for enhancing trade. It is currently 11 billion dollars but both leaders felt it is far below the potential. We are setting a target of 30 billion dollars by 2025 and it will be our effort to ensure that this target is achieved. Now in that regard besides energy, there was discussion on the pharmaceutical sector. The Russian President and his ministers specifically said this is a sector where India has strengths and they would like to leverage the strength. There was some discussions on the agricultural sector. On both sides there is a potential for us. There is potential to export rice, to export dairy products, to export marine products. It is our expectation that the Russian side will assist in this process, give the necessary regulatory clearness, reduce the non-tariff barriers and we are also looking at exports of Russian agricultural products to India. There was a discussion on how we can do this trade in local currencies, as well as as Russian side proposed that they have developed a financial messaging system as an alternative to swift and how it will be possible for the two sides to cooperate in that regard as you know we have a joint working group on this particular area in the banking and financial services sector. The last meeting was held in Delhi, if I recall in July or in August. This is an area where we will continue to have discussion. There was some discussion on Russian proposal for possible joint manufacturing in the civil aviation sector. There was discussion on the possibility of cooperation in the railway sector. Once the feasibility study on the Nagpur-Secunderabad line is completed. We expect that feasibility report to be completed soon.

As I said, there was some discussion, one are which the Prime Minister did flag was the need to improve visa facilitation on both sides and in that regard he raised the difficulties that Indian businessman have in getting visas in Russia and he hoped this would be expedited and would be liberalized. There was discussion on the ship building sector. They have of course visited the ship building facility at Zvezda. But this was particularly in the areas of inland waterways which is a priority for the Prime Minister and for the Government as well as for the passenger ferry services and tourist, the uses of shipping for tourism purposes. So, that was also a very good discussion. And in overall terms I think they were very satisfied with this aspect of cooperation which is the economic pillar of our relationship with Russia.We believe there is a lot of outcome that has come from this visit. We will now implement this in several meetings to take place including the India Russian inter-governmental commission which will meet hopefully later this year. Obviously there was discussion on the traditional areas of cooperation, in the area of defense in the area of civil nuclear energy, in culture, in people to people relations, in trying to achieve an MOU on recognition of degrees, which would be beneficial to both sides and in all these areas, I can certainly say that both leaders were quite satisfied with the outcomes. Now I wanted to share with you that we have had very significant outcomes during this visit. We will be issuing a joint statement that will outline the entire gamut of our relations. But we have 14 other MOU’s. These are Governmental MOU’s or MOU’s between Government supported institutions. Four of them are in the energy sector. These cover natural gas, oil and gas and coking coal. Five are in the economic sector. They cover joint strategy for enhancement of trade and investment, customs facilitation and so on. Two are in the infrastructure sector. One of which of course is the maritime communication between Chennai and Vladivostok. There is also one on the road transport sector. One is on the culture sector. This is audio-visual co production. And one very important agreement in the defence sector. This is the inter-governmental to produce spare parts for Russian origin military equipment. This is important because the Prime Minister has repeatedly called for changing the nature of our relationship with all major defense partner from a buyer-seller relationship to one of co-production and in a sense this agreement is imbued with the spirit of that vision that the Prime Minister has outlined. It will be coproduction in India in an inter-governmental format.

And therefore I think this is an important breakthrough in our defence relationship. The Prime Minister of course will have a dinner this evening and then tomorrow will be bilateral meetings with all three visiting dignitaries. He will meet the prime Minister of Japan, the President of Mongolia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia. And then he will address the eastern economic forum. We will try to do a briefing after the bilaterals, if there is time but I would certainly say at the concluding remarks that both sides, both leaders expressed great satisfaction at the outcome of the summit. There is a very good chemistry between the two leaders. We saw from the Russian delegation which had a number of ministers including two deputy prime ministers, a new enthusiasm on the economic side in particular and I think the officials on both side now have worked cutout for us and now bringing fusion all those understandings of the two leaders are briefed. So we can certainly say that we have had a very successful 20th summit. Before I take a few questions I would like our Ambassador also to say a few words.

Ambassador: Of course it may be noted that this was the first Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Vladivostok and comes as a culmination of a series of very high level visits and preparatory visits that took place between two countries. It is also reflected in the joint statement that will be issued in a while. I would also like to mention that the Prime Minister will be making a major speech tomorrow at the eastern economic forum, so that something that all of you and all of us will look forward to.

Thank You.

Spokesperson: Thank you Sir! I now open the floor for questions.

Question: Thank you, my question is that number of commercial agreements were exchanged today, can you give us the details Sir?

Question: Sir, Manpower export ko lekr aakhir kya baat huyi, kis tarah se isme aage badhne ki kosis krenge. Aur LNG ko lekar kya Time Frame dekh rahe ho aap log?

(What was discussed with regards to manpower exports? How we will move forward? Any time frame for LNG?)

Question: If I remember correctly, our earlier LNG agreement didn’t worked out. So is it replacing that or additional one?

Foreign Secretary: The commercial agreements are going to be done tomorrow, essentially during the Eastern Economic Forum. As you know we have a big business delegation. We also have a pavilion. But our understanding is that in excess of 30 commercial agreements are going to be signed in the course of tomorrow. This number could go up, some are still under negotiation. I don’t have the details specifically, we could certainly share that with you. But I think the Prime Minister also told President Putin that the fact that the commercial agreements outnumber the Governmental agreements is a good sign because ultimately the economic and commercial relationship between India and Russia will grow only if there is commercial participation and business participation in this process. So the Prime Minister is very encouraged by the fact that we have a serious delegation which has come from the business and industry side and we are going to sign a very substantial number of agreements.

On the second question regarding manpower export and the LNG timeframe, I am going to request our Ambassador to way-in.

Ambassador: On manpower export, there is an agreement in principle that India is a very attractive source of manpower exports to the Far-East. Prime Minister raised this and President Putin has supported this. We will be working through this issue in terms of how we will facilitate visas, work permit visas, necessary legal facilitation, particularly link with Joint ventures between Indian and Russian companies in the Far-East. As we move forward more details will come.

On LNG, Russia is already is one of the sources of LNG supplies to India. The idea is to increase LNG supplies. As the point has been made repeatedly that in this very turbulent world and the risks involved with pipelines, LNG supplies are more efficient that is the point that is being reflected. LNG is also a major form in which energy is being exported from Russia. VC Russia is a very reliable long-term partner.

So therefore, when Minister for petroleum and natural gas, Shri. Dharmendra Pradhan has visited Moscow just last week, we had a program of action and a five year agreement of cooperation where LNG figures very prominently and that includes India’s consideration of opportunities for investment in the energy sector in Russia including where LNG sources are possible, LNG transportation, regasification and use of LNG & CNG in India. So the field is very vast and what we can definitely say LNG and gas in particular from Russia will figure more prominently in our energy mix as we move forward.

Foreign Secretary: May I just supplement for the ambassador has said. For us Iran is a very reliable major supplier of energy and has been for many years. Therefore I don’t think we should just oppose our relationship with Iran or with any other country. The consumption of energy in India is growing, it will have to grow if our objective is to grow at 7-8% to reach 5 trillion economy. Therefore we are looking at diversifying and adding additional resources, Russia is a major LNG producer. We are looking forward to enhancing our LNG exports. It is not at the cost of others. Let me also mention two other points which I ought to have mentioned. We are very happy with the cooperation in outer space and particularly very recently we have finalized and signed an agreement for the training of our astronauts for the Gaganyan programme by Russia. So this is important. The second thing is that, as you know both the leaders attach a lot of importance to the environment and in particular to tiger conservation. Prime Minister conveyed to president Putin that the population of tigers in India has significantly increased in the last decade. He is aware of President Putin’s very special interest in preservation of the Siberian tigers. It has been decided that next year India and Russia will do a bilateral forum to take forward tiger conservation. So from the environment and biodiversity prospective this is important, if you recall Prime Minister had also made and mentioned of this at the G7 outreach last week, when he spoke of the Indian commitment to fulfill the convention on biodiversity and what we have done to preserve flora and fauna.

Thank you!

Question: Prime Minister said that we are taking off our relationship beyond the capitals and to other regions and states. We know that four chief ministers were present on the stage who represented recently in August, but beyond that what is happened at this meeting in this Summit.

Question: Mahatma Gandhi ki 150 vi jaynati ko koi Stemp jari kiya jayege ye kab tak hoga?

(When the commemorative stamp in the memory of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is being released?)

Foreign Secretary: Thank you! I think this is an extremely important aspect of the discussions today which was that, we need to diversify relations between the two countries from just the federal union government, we call it states. So what actually happened when the delegation led by Commerce and Industry minister came to Vladivostok was that they met with eleven governors of the Russian provinces in the Far-East and a number of MOUs were signed. We have now invited the Russian side to send the eleven Governor’s to India. We will still work out the details of, when they will come. The idea is that, we create a platform for province to province, state to state relations and then on that basis build Business to business ties. So there was a detailed review conducted by the two leaders on what the outcome had been of that visit last month on the preparations that had been undertaken by both the side. As you know the Dy. Prime Minister Trutnev, who is responsible for the Far-East region has visited India in June. There was general satisfaction with the outcome of this visit in August. Prime Minister explained to President Putin that this is unique. We have not done this with any other country. Sending four chief ministers, 150 strong business delegation and the Commerce and Industries Minister to any one country. Now we expect the Russian side to bring these eleven Governors to India with any federal support or federal minister and we are quite confident that a sort of critical mass has been built up during this visit to Vladivostok. I will leave my colleague to answer the question on the stamp on Mahatma Gandhi.

Ambassador: On the auspicious occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Russian Government has taken a decision to issue a special commemorative stamp. That is being issued by GSPS Marka and if you were attending the press interaction that Prime Minister and President Putin addressed this afternoon, President Putin made a reference to it in his remarks. So we are grateful to Russia for honoring our father of the nation on his 150th birth anniversary.

Question: We have trouble in getting business visas and that was raised? How is the situation with manpower exports………………..?

Foreign Secretary: I don’t think there is a relationship between business visas and manpower exports. Manpower exports will be done as we have done with other countries through an intergovernmental agreement. With some countries we have got labour agreement, with other more developed countries we have got the migration and mobility partnership agreement depending on which category of skilled and unskilled workers come. We are in the process of exchanging drafts. And what we got today was a very positive indication from the Russian side that they were willing to look at Indian manpower exports and prime minister also conveyed that Indian manpower is highly respected for its disciplined attitude and behavior, a point he made during his visit to Bahrain and UAE last week as well. So we see a convergence of views and we expect that this will be concluded.

The Business visa is one entirely separate matter. The Prime Minister was making the point that it was the time, if we have to move from 11 billion to 30 billion in the space of 6-10 years. That easier facilitation is given to Indian nationals and of course we are doing so with the e-visa, which is being extended for both business and tourism. We would hope that something similar or some sort of liberalization would take place from the Russian side.

Question: Is the issue of Kashmir was discussed?

Foreign Secretary: Yes indeed this issue did come up. The Prime Minister explained to President Putin at length about the rationale behind the Government’s decision. The Prime Minister also explained about the false and misleading information was being given on this matter. And the Prime Minister thanked Russia and President Putin for his very clear and strong support to India on this issue. So overall I think that was a very useful exchange they had and it is our understanding that Russia stands very firmly behind India on this matter.

Spokesperson: Thank you Sir!

This concludes the special briefing from Vladivostok. Prime Minister has a busy day tomorrow. If we get time, than we will do another briefing before the event is over, before our departure.

Thank you!
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