India has urged Russia to reconsider its decision to hold joint military drills with Pakistan.

Soon after Islamabad confirmed that Pakistan and Russia would conduct the ‘Druzhba-2016’ tactical exercises from September 24-October 7 in Rattu and Cherat, the Indian External Affairs Ministry has sent a letter to Kremlin, saying that Moscow should keep New Delhi’s sensitivity in mind while conducting joint military drills with Pakistan. The Indian ministry also said that Moscow should think twice before making a final decision, as such a move could pose a threat to Indo-Russian ties.

India, which is ramping up partnership with Russia in different sectors, like energy, connectivity and manufacturing (apart from maintaining robust defence ties), also expressed serious concern over Moscow’s decision to supply defence equipment to neighbouring Pakistan. A senior official of the Indian ministry said that the current global geo-political scenario prompted New Delhi to send the letter to Kremlin.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would raise the issue during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of BRICS Annual Summit in Goa on October 15-16. According to the official, the External Affairs Ministry clearly mentioned in the letter that Moscow should not take any step detrimental to India’s security interests.

In recent times, India has strengthened strategic ties with Russia because of the latter’s emergence as a major player in West and Central Asia and also in Asia-Pacific region. New Delhi believes that Russia can help India in balancing power equations in Asia. India is also co-operating with Russia in Persian Gulf, Iran and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Russia maintains cordial ties with both India and China. An expert on Indo-Russian affairs explained: “India is vital for Russia’s Asia-Pacific Policy. After all, Moscow does not want to box itself by expanding ties only with China. Sino-Russian ties will not grow at the cost of Indo-Russian ties. New Delhi still makes first phone call to Moscow when it comes to security emergency.”

However, the expert admitted that the Russia-Pakistan defence co-operation has made the equation more complex. For Russia, it will be a great challenge to maintain healthy ties with the two South Asian rivals simultaneously.

Petr Topychankov, a South Asia expert and an Associate in the Carnegie Moscow Centre’s Non-proliferation Programme, thinks differently. He dispelled the myths surrounding Moscow’s recent outreach to Islamabad, saying that relations between New Delhi and Moscow are stood on a solid base and Pakistan cannot influence Russia’s strategic partnership with India. “Pakistan cannot replace or even influence Russia’s strategic partnership with India. This is just impossible. Russia’s priorities are very clear. I think that no matter how long New Delhi will enjoy its ‘honeymoon’ in relations with Washington, both India and Russia understand that their ties cannot be influenced by any third parties,” said Topychankov.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]