New Delhi could opt out of Russia-India-China virtual meeting

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India is unlikely to join a virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping scheduled for June 23 in the aftermath of the violent clash along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

After a weeks-long military build-up along the LAC, Indian and Chinese troops were involved in what Indian officials described as a “violent face-off” on Monday night. One officer was among the 20 soldiers killed in the confrontation and several more were injured.

Though the border stand-off was not on the agenda of the RIC meeting via video conference, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity it appeared unlikely the Indian side would join the meet in view of the prevailing tensions with China and the domestic situation.

The meeting, which hasn’t been officially announced as yet, was originally scheduled to be held in March but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Russia recently took the initiative to organise the virtual meeting on June 22, as first reported by HT on June 13. It was subsequently deferred by a day to June 23.

The meeting was expected to largely focus on enhancing cooperation to tackle the fallout of the global pandemic and the agenda was to have been finalised by early this week.

The situation in Afghanistan and regional connectivity projects such as the International North South Transport Corridor involving India, Russia and Iran were also expected to figure so that the three countries could reach common ground on issues such as regional security and stability.

“The atmosphere has been vitiated by the developments of the past two days and Indian participation is looking unlikely,” said one of the people cited above.

The people didn’t rule out a last minute push by Russia to go ahead with the meeting, especially in view of recent remarks by Russian officials about India and China taking steps to de-escalate tensions.

“The existing situation is a concern but Russia is trusted by the other two countries. There is a need for all sides to keep in touch, especially in multilateral formats, to expand multilateral cooperation and accumulate more trust,” said a second person.

Moscow’s relations with both New Delhi and Beijing are currently very good, and Russian ambassador Nikolay Kudashev and deputy chief of mission Roman Babushkin have, in recent remarks to the Indian media, spoken of the need for easing tensions for regional stability.

Kudashev said Russia is confident India and China will be guided by commitments made by their leadership during two informal summits and work for peace and tranquillity on the border. He also said Russia is looking toward to further engagements in the RIC, SCO and Brics (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) groupings to enhance mutual trust and stability.

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