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On Internalising Of External Affairs…

India and Russia are almost at loggerheads over the Pakistan issue in recent times. Now, New Delhi and Moscow have expressed different views on the future of Afghanistan, after the complete withdrawal of US troops. In such a situation, India has held diplomatic talks with the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in order to keep the Kremlin on its toes.

While returning to New Delhi from Moscow after holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov in the second week of July, Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar arrived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Russia no longer has good relations with Georgia, the birthplace of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, after the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Even a minor war broke out between the two countries in 2008. Since then, bilateral diplomatic relations have been strained.

Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

The Russo-Georgian War was an armed conflict between Georgia, Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The war took place in the strategically important Transcaucasia region in August 2008 following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia. It was considered as the first European War of the 21st Century. The Republic of Georgia had declared Independence in early 1991 as the Soviet Union began to fall apart. Amidst this backdrop, a war between Georgia and separatists left parts of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast under the de facto control of Russian-backed, but internationally unrecognised separatists. Following the war, a joint peacekeeping force of Georgian, Russian and Ossetian troops was stationed in the territory.

The Russian Diplomats believe India has insulted the Kremlin by sending its External Affairs Minister to Georgia straight from Moscow. According to sources close to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Kremlin had no prior information about Dr Jaishankar’s visit to Tbilisi. Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has issued a statement, saying that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had arrived in Pakistan in April 2021 after visiting India, ignoring objections from New Delhi. Moscow has also strengthened defence ties with Islamabad in recent times. Russia and Pakistan conducted joint Naval Exercises from July 22-26, 2021. As expected, the development has put the Indian foreign policy-makers under tremendous pressure.

External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar handing over a part of the relics to Georgia’s Vice-PM David Zalkaliani on July 9, 2021

Furthermore, India and Russia have failed to agree on the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the coming years. As a result, Dr Jaishankar had to return from Moscow almost empty handed. The Indian minister has claimed that his visit to Georgia was apparently cultural and historical. Reports suggest that Dr Jaishankar took India’s ties with Georgia to a new level, as he handed over relics belonging to St Queen Ketevan to the Georgian Government. Queen Ketevan was assassinated at Shiraz, Iran in 1814, for refusing to give up the Christian faith and convert to Islam. Later, relics belonging to St Queen Ketevan were excavated in western Indian province of Goa. Upon his arrival in Tbilisi on a two-day visit, the Indian minister handed over the relics to his Georgian counterpart David Zalkaliani, who is also the Vice-Prime Minister of his country. Then, Zalkaliani handed over those items to His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia or the spiritual head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, in the presence of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

Meanwhile, the ruling Georgian Dream Democratic Party has described the return of the relics, excavated in Goa in 2016, as an unprecedented gesture that would be remembered and appreciated. The Foreign Policy Experts are of the opinion that India has been maintaining closer ties with Central Asian countries and former Soviet Republics in an attempt to tackle the Afghan Taliban in a changing global geopolitical landscape. The withdrawal of US troops from the war-ravaged South Asian nation has encouraged Russia, China and Pakistan to increase their influence in Afghanistan. New Delhi believes that Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan could pose a serious security threat to India in future.

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