Indian Prime Minister balances the game when meeting Putin

Via Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News, Delhi

Indian Prime Minister Modi meets Russian President Putin

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being closely watched by Western allies as he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on his first foreign trip since returning to power for a third term in June.

Mr Modi landed on Monday, just hours after Russian bombing killed at least 41 people in Ukraine, including a children’s hospital in Kyiv, sparking worldwide protests.

Pictures from Moscow showed a smiling Modi hugging the Russian president. A video of a smiling Putin calling Modi “my best friend” and saying he was “very happy to meet him” went viral across India.

Mr Modi’s two-day visit – his first to the Kremlin since 2019 – coincides with a NATO summit in Washington, where the 2022 invasion will be a key topic.

India, a major global economy, has close ties with both Russia and the United States, and its partners and officials in Delhi have played down questions about the timing of Mr Modi’s trip, saying the annual summit is part of a long-standing strategic partnership and its timing has nothing to do with the NATO summit.

But a sour note was struck when the United States expressed concern. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller urged Mr Modi to stress Ukraine’s territorial integrity during his talks in Moscow.

Mr. Miller also said the United States had raised concerns with India about its relationship with Russia.

“We call on India, as well as any other country working with Russia, to make clear that any solution to the conflict in Ukraine must respect the UN Charter, respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” he said at a press conference on Monday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has gone further — and without any hint.

“It is a huge disappointment and a huge blow to the peace effort to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hugging the world’s bloodiest criminal in Moscow on a day like this,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday night.

The NATO summit in Washington, which opens on Tuesday, is being held to mark the 75th anniversary of the Western defence group, which was established largely as a bulwark against the Soviet Union after World War II.

NATO countries have strongly condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while India and Mr. Modi have refrained from explicitly criticizing President Putin except to call for dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the conflict.

While Western nations try to isolate Moscow by imposing sanctions, President Putin has held high-level meetings with leaders of key countries such as China, India, Turkey and others.

Some are now questioning whether Mr Modi’s presence in Moscow could give Mr Putin an advantage. Is the message India is sending to serve Russia?

AFP Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an informal meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on July 8AFP

Mr Putin welcomed Mr Modi in an informal meeting at his residence on the outskirts of Moscow.

“This bilateral visit is just a scheduling priority that we have taken. And that is the truth,” Vinay Kwatra, permanent secretary in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told the BBC ahead of Mr Modi’s visit, dismissing any link between the two events.

India and Russia have shared a close defense and strategic relationship since the Cold War, and Moscow remains a major arms supplier. India, which maintains one of the world’s largest militaries, has long-standing border disputes with neighbors Pakistan and China.

Experts say Mr Modi’s emphasis on Moscow is not surprising and the relationship is not limited to defence procurement.

“If you look at the historical trend, it [Moscow] “It is one of the constants in India’s foreign policy,” Pankaj Saran, a former Indian ambassador to Moscow, told the BBC.

“The main pillars of the relationship include defense, energy and science and technology cooperation.”

Over the years, Russia has provided technical assistance for the construction of several nuclear power plants in India.

Since the Ukraine war began, Delhi has also bought billions of dollars of discounted oil from Moscow after Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia aimed at curbing the price or availability of the product.

Fuelled by a surge in oil purchases, bilateral trade between India and Russia has soared to $65bn (£50.76bn) in the past few years. India’s exports to Russia stand at just $4bn.

Indian officials say Mr Modi’s main priority will be to address this trade imbalance and encourage Russia to invest in India and move some defence production to India.

AFP In this pool photo released by Russian state news agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit the stables during an informal meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on July 8, 2024.AFP

The two leaders also visited a horse stable during their informal meeting outside Moscow.

Over the past 20 years, the West, particularly the United States, has cultivated closer ties with India, which many see as a bulwark against the threat from an increasingly assertive China.

India also became a member of the Quad – a strategic forum with the United States, Australia and Japan – seen as a grouping aimed at countering China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific.

But in the face of growing Western hostility, President Putin has developed closer strategic and economic ties with Beijing, a development that has not gone unnoticed in India, China’s longtime rival.

ONE deadly brawl at the disputed border in the Ladakh region in June 2020 killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers and escalated tensions.

Indians fear that the country could be left out of the Moscow-Beijing equation.

“One option that Delhi is currently taking is to keep the channel open with Russia to maintain friendship and avoid taking any steps that could aggravate Russia’s tilt towards China caused by US and Western policies,” said Mr. Saran.

While Delhi has diversified its arsenal in recent decades by buying weapons systems from the US, France and Israel, it remains heavily dependent on Moscow and there are concerns that the war in Ukraine has hit its defence exports.

“There are reports of delays in the supply of some spare parts and the delivery of the remaining S-400 missile defence systems. So there will definitely be some discussion on this during the visit,” said Anil Trigunayat, a former ambassador and now an honorary fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation in Delhi.

Getty Images This photo taken on February 22, 2024 shows a printed image of Indian citizen Mohammed Asfan, seen wearing a Russian military uniform, who last called his family from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don before being deployed in the conflict in Ukraine, being held by his brother Mohammed Imran in Hyderabadbeautiful pictures

Indian citizens lured with false promises of lucrative jobs were forced to fight for the Russian army

Delhi and Moscow are not without their differences. There have been several reported cases of Indian citizens being lured with false promises of lucrative jobs and ending up fighting for the Russian army in Ukraine. So far, four Indians have died in the fighting.

Indian officials have said that during his visit, Mr Modi will push his Russian counterpart to quickly demobilise some of the Indian soldiers – believed to be in the dozens – still fighting in the war.

India realizes that it needs both the United States and Russia to counter its rival China. Therefore, it feels the need to balance so as not to offend either side.

“India pursues a policy of strategic autonomy and multi-alignment. We have strategic relationships with both the United States and Russia. These are mutually exclusive partnerships,” Trigunayat said.


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