New Delhi/Almaty, Dec. 22: India and Russia are broadly "on the same page" on the Syrian crisis, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said today, in New Delhi's clearest signal of support yet to Moscow's position on a civil war that has now spawned a brutal terror group.
Jaishankar's comments, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies to Moscow for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, come at a time Russia is bombarding Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria.
The US, France, UK, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are involved in a parallel military campaign in Syria - also against the IS.
But the foreign secretary subtly underscored why India was more comfortable with the Russian initiative than the one led by the US.
"At a conceptual level, both Russians and we agree that the Syrian issue needs to be resolved through political and diplomatic means, and an intra-Syria solution," Jaishankar said, effectively echoing the Russian position that the removal of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as a precondition for a political resolution in Damascus was unacceptable. "So if you look at the broad approach to the issue, I think we are on the same page."
India has traditionally been reticent about backing any military campaign that stands in violation of UN law. The West-led coalition has for the past two years demanded Assad's ouster as a precondition for a political resolution.
The Russian coalition - which includes Iraq, Syria and Iran - also does not have UN backing. But crucially, it was invited to intervene by the government of Syria, and so does not legally need UN approval, much like India's military interventions in the Maldives and Sri Lanka in the late 1980s.
"In terms of what the Russians are actually doing in Syria, that is something they are doing in consultation with the government of Syria," Jaishankar added.
The foreign secretary's statements come less than a week after defence minister Manohar Parrikar suggested India would be "ready" to join a UN-backed coalition against the IS.
"In effect, when you think of it, Parrikar was voicing the Russian position too," former Indian diplomat Melkulangara Bhadrakumar told The Telegraph. "That's the classic Russian position - against unilateral action."
But over the past week, the prospects of an international coalition, mandated by the UN to fight the IS, have increased.
US secretary of state John Kerry, in Moscow a week back, had suggested for the first time that America would not insist on Assad's removal as a precondition for a resolution of the civil war.
"The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change," Kerry said in Moscow, according to a state department transcript, adding that the US goal was to facilitate a peace process in which "Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria".