NEW DELHI :

India is to hold “2+2″ talks with both the US and Russia in coming weeks – a move that is seen by analysts as a practical manifestation of India’s pursuit of strategic autonomy.  

The India-Russia “2+2″ talks – that brings together the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries – is to take place ahead of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s India visit on 6 December. This will be the first of time that Russia and India will have ministers meeting in this format. 

India has talks in the “2+2″ arrangement with the US, Japan and Australia who are members of the Quad – a grouping that is seen to have come up against the backdrop of the belligerent rise of China. Officials of the grouping first met in 2017 followed by the first meeting at the foreign  ministerial level in 2019. This was elevated further to a meeting of the leaders of the four Quad countries in March this year. The Quad summit in March – which took place virtually — was followed an in person Quad meeting in September which was hosted by the US.    

“What you are seeing in strategic autonomy in action,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “It is odd that India which is committed to strategic autonomy does not have ‘2+2’ talks with Russia,” Sibal said. “It is intended to bring their (India-Russia) policies in alignment with each other and not directed at any third party,” he said adding that the aim was also to remove some “wrinkles in relations.” The reference was to Russia’s growing ties with China, with whom India has a tense relationship especially since May last year when Chinese troops trespassed into Indian territory at multiple locations in eastern Ladakh.  

Sibal acknowledged that the other “2+2″ dialogues were a result of the rise of China and its aggressive behaviour towards its neighbours including India.  

The “2+2″ with the US is intended to “deepen strategic ties with the US both bilaterally and in the larger perspective of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad,” Sibal said.  With Japan and Australia too, India’s aims were similar, he said.  

“The dialogues are implicitly products of our concern and the threat it poses to the peace and stability in the larger Indo pacific,” Sibal said.  

Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh are expected to will travel to Washington for the fourth India-US meeting, the dates for which are still being finalised.  

Three rounds of dialogue have taken place between the two countries so far in September 2018, December 2019 and in October last year.  

The “2+2″ talks with Russia and the US come as India is getting deliveries of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system to India. The S-400 Triumf air defence missile system will give a major boost to India’s capabilities to target  enemy fighter aircraft and cruise missiles at long ranges.  

India signed a $5.43 billion deal with Russia for five S-400 regiments in October 2018 and officials have said that all deliveries are to be completed within five years. 

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will be inducting the first unit of S-400 systems at a time when India is locked in a standoff with China in the Ladakh sector. China has already deployed two S-400 squadrons at Ngari Gar Gunsa and Nyingchi airbase in Tibet, across Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh respectively. 

The deal between India and Russia has been a worry for US with voices in Washington raising the spectre of sanctions if India goes ahead with the purchase.  

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