India should “undoubtedly” be part of international efforts to find a settlement to the situation in Afghanistan as it is an “important player” in such endeavours, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said.

In an interview ahead of his talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar in New Delhi on Tuesday, Lavrov also said Russia expects India and China to find “mutually acceptable political and diplomatic ways” to remove their differences at the earliest. Lavrov also outlined Russia’s priorities for engagements with India during the year, including the annual summit to be held in India and other engagements.

With India and Russia set to resume high-level engagements, what will be the priorities for bilateral agenda in 2021?

Russia is satisfied with the vigorous political dialogue with India on all levels that keeps on actively developing despite serious restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, we managed to successfully organise several events in face-to-face and online formats. Summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) – a new type of multilateral associations where our countries cooperate fruitfully – are among them.

This year, New Delhi holds Brics chairmanship – we are willing to contribute in every possible way in this regard. India has also joined the activities of the UN Security Council as its non-permanent member. We intend to continue close interaction within the mentioned forums as well as other international platforms.

We hope that the epidemiological situation would allow us to organise a bilateral summit in 2021. The dates of next sessions of the Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation, Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation and Inter-Parliamentary Commission are under consideration.

Given the need to overcome negative consequences of the pandemic for the world and national economies, our definite priorities include intensification of the Russian-Indian practical cooperation in areas such as trade, energy, agriculture, transport, finance and banking, science and technology, humanitarian ties.

During your recent visit to China, did you come away with any fresh insights from your interactions with the Chinese leadership regarding India-China relations? How does Russia currently see its relations with India and China?

We are closely watching the process of normalisation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). We welcome the agreements reached after the telephone conversation between the foreign ministers of India and China on February 25, 2021, aimed at resolution of the situation. We highly appreciate the constructive approach demonstrated by both sides. We pay due respect to the intentions of New Delhi and Beijing to act independently and within the frameworks of established multilayer bilateral dialogue mechanisms, without interference from outside.

Russia has acknowledged India’s interests in Afghanistan and in efforts to find a solution to the situation in Afghanistan. However, India was not part of the recent “extended Troika” meeting in Moscow, and some even speculated this was done at the behest of Pakistan. What role does Russia see for India in Afghanistan?

India is an important player in the settlement in Afghanistan and undoubtedly should be engaged in international efforts supporting the Afghan national reconciliation.

New Delhi is not a participant of the extended “Troika” on Afghanistan, in the framework of which Moscow hosted intra-Afghan consultations on March 18 aimed at facilitation of the launch of peace process in the country. At the same time, India is part of the Moscow format uniting the neighbouring states of Afghanistan, key regional countries and the USA. Such a composition allows to coordinate the assistance to national reconciliation process based on broad regional consensus.

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