Politics & News

India PM Modi Visits Russia in First Trip since Ukraine War

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked on a two-day state visit to Russia on Monday, for the first time since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, reported the Associated Press (AP).

Modi will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, whom he last met in person in September 2022 in Uzbekistan, at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization bloc.

Busy Agenda

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the program of Modi’s visit to Moscow will be extensive, reported the Russian news agency Tass. He said: “Obviously, the agenda will be extensive, if not to say overbusy. It will be an official visit, and we hope that the heads will be able to talk in an informal way as well.”

Peskov added that the two leaders will have “one-on-one talks in the Kremlin” as well as talks involving delegations. “We are expecting a very important and full-fledged visit, which is so crucial for Russian-Indian relations,” the spokesperson said, describing the Russian-Indian relations as “strategic partnership.”

India PM Modi Visits Russia in First Trip Since Ukraine War
Modi and Putin

During his visit, Modi will co-chair the 22nd India-Russia Annual Summit with Putin. He will also interact with the members of Indian Community in Moscow.

The Indian prime minister last visited Russia in 2019 when he met Putin in Vladivostok in the country’s Far East. After Moscow, Modi will visit Austria, the first visit by an Indian prime minister in over four decades.

Key Partners

India and Russia have enjoyed strong ties since the Cold War. New Delhi has become a key trading partner for Moscow since the latter’s war on Ukraine in February 2022.

After US and Western sanctions on Russia, India and China have become main importers of Russian oil, as India gets over 40% of its oil imports from Russia. Additionally, India has maintained a neutral stance on the Ukraine war, by not condemning Russia nor joining Western sanctions, while underscoring the urgency of a peaceful settlement.

India’s increased purchases of cheap Russian oil has boosted bilateral energy trade, according to Voice of America (VOA). Moscow’s total exports to India stand at $65bn, while Indian exports are only about $4bn, raising concern in New Delhi.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters on Friday: “Trade remains imbalanced, which is a matter of priority in our discussions with the Russian side.” He added that New Delhi wants to boost exports across various sectors, such as farm products, technology, pharmaceuticals and services.

Defense Ties

India has been heavily reliant on Russian weapons, but the fighting in Ukraine has hit Russia’s military supply line. This has pushed New Delhi to diversify its purchases of military hardware in recent years, by increasing purchases from the US, Israel, France and Italy. However, one third of India’s defense imports come from Russia.

The war in Ukraine has raised concerns over Moscow’s ability to provide spare parts and ammunition. Chietigj Bajpaee, senior South Asia research fellow at the UK-based Chatham House, said: “Defense cooperation will clearly be a priority area.” He added that 60% of India’s military equipment and systems is “still of Russian origins.”

Bajpaee told AP: “We’ve seen some delay in the deliveries of spare parts … following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I believe both countries are due to conclude a military logistics agreement, which would pave the way for more defense exchanges.”

China Tensions

Since the Ukraine war, Russia has embarked on fostering closer ties to China, India’s main rival. This has made the partnership between Moscow and New Delhi tense. Hence, Modi on Thursday skipped the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in Kazakhstan.

India PM Modi Visits Russia in First Trip Since Ukraine War
Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Narendra Modi

Bajpaee pointed out that India is becoming more alienated from forums in which Russia and China play a prominent role. “This is evident in India’s relatively low-key presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year, and now the decision by Modi not to attend this year’s summit.”

The disputed China-India border witnessed skirmishes in June 2020, when the rival troops fought with rocks, clubs and fists, killing at least 20 Indian soldiers and 4 Chinese soldiers. Tensions have persisted since then.

D. Bala Venkatesh Verma, a former Indian ambassador to Russia, told the AP: “Russia’s relations with China have been a matter of some concern for India in the context of Chinese increased assertiveness in the region.”

Putin Isolation

Modi’s visit will be crucial for Putin, as it emphasizes that Western sanctions have not isolated him. The Russian President faces an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC), so his foreign travel has been sparse in recent years.

With regard to this, Theresa Fallon, an analyst at the Center for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies, said: “We kind of see Putin going on a nostalgia trip — you know, he was in Vietnam, he was in North Korea. In my view, he’s trying to demonstrate that he’s not a vassal to China, that he has options, that Russia is still a great power.”

Similarly, Alexander Gabuev, head of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, noted that Putin’s international interactions aim to show he “is far from isolated” and that Russia is not a country to be discounted.

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