Photo : Reuters
16 December 2021, Thursday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #74
By Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan
Modi-Putin, reinvigorating bilateral ties and defence relations.
Reviving the strained bilateral ties
On 06 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India for the 21st annual summit, where he met his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The visit was preceded by a 2+2 dialogue involving the Foreign and Defence ministers of both countries discussing bilateral, regional and international issues while emphasizing defence relations. The discussion between the Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with their Russian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu, occurred a few hours before the two countries' leaders met.
During the discussion, Prime Minister Modi said: "Despite the challenges posed by Covid, the pace of relations between India and Russia has not changed." The summit was to be held in 2020 but was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19. Putin called India a "great power" and "a time-tested friend". The leaders shared their views to revive the wrinkled bilateral ties as they further discussed defence contacts. After the summit, India and Russia signed 28 agreements and released a 99-point joint statement.
Readjusting the balance in India-Russia ties through defence deals
The two countries were undergoing a period of oscillation, with uncertainties growing as India joined the Quad and Russia expanded its proximity to China as a close strategic partner. Trade between the two countries was an important aspect of discussion as the bilateral trade was stagnant at USD 10 billion, similar to the trade between India and Bangladesh. India's trade with China and the US is at USD 100 billion, while Russia's trade with China is a little over USD 100 billion. Thus, both countries pledged to boost annual trade to USD 30 billion by 2025.
India-US ties had deteriorated during the Trump administration as the President offered to only mediate between China and India after the Galwan valley skirmish. Moreover, the US did not hold the PLA accountable for its actions, creating apprehension about the US' support to India during such situations. India bought the S-400 missile systems from Russia even though the US threatened to impose sanctions under the CAATSA.
Russia and India signed a deal of 600,000 Ak-203 assault rifles made by Kalashnikov, a Russian weapon maker. In addition, India started receiving the S-400 defence systems that are vital for India's strategic deterrence to counter Pakistan and China in the region. It is one of the most sophisticated surface to air defence systems globally, with a range of 400 kilometer, and can shoot down 80 targets simultaneously. India is Russia's largest arms importer even though its arms import had dropped from 70 percent to 49 percent during 2011-2020. Thus, defence ties between Moscow and Delhi have become a priority for the two countries.
India and Russia reworking their way ahead
Russia has invariably grown close to China and will inevitably grow closer, while India may continue to retain a strategic autonomy, balancing both the US and Russia. Nevertheless, India would grow closer to Russia in the defence sector in the coming years due to their recent defence deals. According to a Stimson Center paper released in 2020, about 86 percent of Indian military equipment systems were of Russian or Soviet origin. Moreover, the joint statements released after the discussions hint at expanding cooperation between the two countries. One of the combined statements released after the talks said the countries "reiterated their intention to strengthen defence cooperation, including in the joint development of production of military equipment". India and Russia have invested in the joint development of BrahMos Mark II, which is a hypersonic version of the BrahMos. India recently invested USD one billion in credit in the far-east region of Russia, while Russia has invested in manufacturing the Sputnik-V vaccine in India. The countries also discussed a Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor to open business frontiers.
"India, Russia sign trade, arms deals during Putin visit to New Dehli," France24, 07 December 2021.
"Putin heads to India with eye on military, energy ties," France24, 05 December 2021.
Vikas Pandey, "Vladimir Putin: What Russian president's India visit means for world politics," BBC, 06 December 2021.
"Moscow, Delhi sign deal to produce Kalashnikov assault rifles in India," Reuters, 06 December 2021.
"India, Russia sign 28 investment deals -foreign secy," Reuters, 06 December 2021.
By Joeana Cera Mathews, Ashwin Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan
Paris: Taxi firm G7 bans usage of Tesla cars
On 15 December, G7, the largest taxi company in Paris, banned the use of Model 3 cars of Tesla after a deadly incident. A driver who lost control caused an accident leading to the death of one while 20 others were found injured. The Prosecutors of Paris have filed an investigation under charges of manslaughter and unintentional injury. According to France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari stated that there was an absence of any proof that verified the accident’s association to a ‘technical problem’. In response, Tesla’s Europe chief executive said that the company had not faced any safety alerts so far in the particular model. The system of Tesla cars has been criticized by its users for its Autopilot” feature, which gives the car unattended control. Similar to France, the US is also investigating the Autopilot system, after facing a series of Tesla crashes. (“Tesla Model 3: Paris' largest taxi firm suspends cars after a fatal crash,” BBC, 15 December 2021)
Olaf Scholz delivers his first formal government briefing
On 15 December, Germany's new Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered his inaugural address to the Bundestag. Deutsche Welle reported that he spoke on nine topics ranging from "calls to get vaccinated" to "China, defense and relationship with the US". Scholz outlined his government’s new policy agendas after his three-party coalition government was formally sworn in last week. His comments on migration and citizenship were about Germany accepting itself as a country of immigration and assured to make it easier to become citizens of the country. He said: "We are going to make multiple citizenship possible, in keeping with the reality of many people in this country." Scholz also expressed his "solidarity with Poland, given the situation at its border with Belarus" while speaking about European unity. At the same time, he emphasized the rule of law to deal with political extremism and financial issues. Furthermore, he presented the government's policies on mobility, affordable housing, energy transition and climate neutrality. Scholz even thanked his predecessor Angela Merkel for a smooth transition as Deutsche Welle reported: "The civility of the transfer from the former to the current government was admired worldwide, and earned the respect of many across the globe." (Alistair Walsh, "Germany's new Chancellor Olaf Scholz briefs Bundestag for the first time," Deutsche Welle, 16 December 2021)
Raids on anti-vaccination activists of Saxony
On 15 December, German Police carried out raids in the eastern state of Saxony after they uncovered a plot to murder the Premier by far-right anti-vaccination activists. The charge was carried out by the local security forces and the special Soko Rex anti-extremist unit to cover multiple locations. The plot against the Premier of Saxony Michael Kretschmer was discussed on the Telegram messaging app with about 100 people communicating about the same. Germany has been facing protests due to the tighter restrictions being placed in the wake of the new Omicron variant. Anti-Vaccination activists were against Kretschmer and other state officials as they recently changed their stance on COVID-19 restrictions. The change in perspective came after a switch in government policies due to the steep rise of coronavirus cases and the low vaccination rates in Saxony. In the wake of the raids, Kretschmer mentioned that the government would use all legal means to tackle the threats. He also said: "People in public office should not have to be scared of expressing their opinion or doing their jobs." (Kate Connolly, “German police raids target ‘anti-vaxxer murder plot’ against state leader,” The Guardian, 16 December 2021; “German raids on Covid extremists over Saxony leader death plot,” BBC, 15 December 2021)
Vilnius recalls diplomats from Beijing due to “safety concerns”
On 15 December, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry published a statement on their website after diplomats placed in Beijing returned to Vilnius. The statement read: “Charge d’affaires ad interim in China, Audra Ciapiene, returns to Vilnius for consultations.” According to Reuters, 19 Lithuanian Embassy personnel were returning to Vilnius via a plane to Paris due to “safety concerns”. Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis commented on the situation: “Uncertainty creates various possible interpretations… I want to say very strictly that this is not the closure of the embassy.” The statement released by the ministry also read: “Lithuania is ready to continue the dialogue with China and restore the functions of the embassy to their full extent once a mutually beneficial agreement has been reached.” Currently, the embassy is expected to function remotely while consular services resume in a constrained manner. The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry responded to the move stating their “highest respect to the Lithuanian government and its diplomatic decision-making”. (Yew Lun Tian and Andrius Sytas, “Lithuanian diplomats leave China as relations sour over Taiwan,” Thomson Reuters Foundation News, 15 December 2021; “Lithuania′s diplomats leave Beijing,” Deutsche Welle, 15 December 2021)
EU meets with eastern counterparts, discusses Ukraine-Russia tension
On 15 December, EU leaders met with leaders from Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative. The primary topic of discussion was the escalating tensions at the Russian-Ukrainian border. On the sidelines of this meet, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gathered with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron in an effort to call for the Normandy format of talks to de-escalate tensions at the border. European Council President Charles Michel also joined the discussion. A statement released by Macron’s office read: “The three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to… negotiations in order to find a lasting solution for the conflict and to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Commenting on the sanctions promised by the West, Zelenskyy said: “For us, it is important to have sanctions applied before, rather than after, the conflict would happen, because if they were applied after the conflict would happen, this would basically make them meaningless.” (“EU talks with former-Soviet republics with eye on Russia,” Deutsche Welle, 15 December 2021)
Denmark approves usage of Covid pill ahead of EU-wide approval
On 16 December, Denmark approved the molnupiravir antiviral pill for high-risk COVID-19 patients and the elderly. According to the Health Authority Chief Medical Officer Kirstine Moll Harboe: “We believe that the benefits of being treated (with it) outweigh the disadvantages for those patients who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.” The European Medicines Agency, which is still reviewing the treatment, has recommended the usage of the drug for adults ahead of an EU-wide approval. So far Britain has been the only country that has allowed the use of the COVID-19 pill. (“Denmark approves Merck's COVID-19 pill for at-risk patients,” Reuters, 16 December 2021)