India has withdrawn from large scale multi country military drills scheduled to take place in Russia's Astrakhan Region from 15-27 September amid concerns about some of the other participants.
The presence of military elements from Abkhazia and South Ossetia were considered to be problematic since India, like most of the world does not recognise the independence of these two territories. India also did not want to be seen participating in military exercises with China, another participant of Kavkaz2020, given the recent border clashes between the two countries.
Kavkaz2020 are scheduled to gather around 13,000 troops from 20 countries and are part of a four year training cycle of the Russian Armed Forces.
"Russia and India are close and privileged strategic partners. At Russia's invitation India has been participating in many international events. However, in view of the pandemic and consequent difficulties in exercise, including arrangements of logistics, India has decided not to send a contingent this year to Kavkaz-2020. The same has been informed to the Russian side," said a defence ministry spokesperson.
According to the influential Indian newspaper, The Hindustan Times, the decision not to go ahead with participating in the Kavkaz-2020 multilateral exercise was made following consultations between India's defence ministry and the external affairs ministry that took into consideration several factors, the officials cited above said on the condition of anonymity.
"There is a decision not to take part in contact exercises in view of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to ensure the safety of our troops," the officials said. The expected presence in the exercise of troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both states that aren't recognised by India, in Kavkaz-2020 was also a factor in the decision, said one of the officials.
The newspaper noted that most UN member states see Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia, though both are recognised by Russia. India doesn't recognise both as independent states as they are not members of the UN. India's presence at such an exercise could have given rise to delicate diplomatic issues, a second official said.
Criticism of India's possible presence at Kavkaz-2020 alongside Chinese and Pakistani troops has been growing ever since reports first emerged that New Delhi was extended an invitation to send a tri-services contingent to the exercise.
India planned to send around 180 troops from an infantry battalion, along with elements of the air force and observers from the Indian Navy for the exercise.
Questions have also been raised about India participating in an exercise featuring Chinese troops amid the months-long standoff along the LAC and the death of 20 Indian soldiers in the violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15.
The Russian exercise has also sparked tensions with Ukraine, which is organising its own command-staff exercise United Efforts-2020, for which it plans to involve NATO countries. This exercise too will be held at around the same time.
While it is not uncommon for the armies of India, China and Pakistan to be part of multi-nation exercises on neutral territories (they even deploy alongside in United Nations peace missions), India's participation in Kavkaz-2020 had assumed importance because of the ongoing border row in the Ladakh sector.
source: commonspace.eu with The Hindustan Times
photo: An Indian army unit on parade (archive picture)
They warn about the risk of destabilisation throughout the Caucasus and of a new humanitarian crisis.