Putin Hosts Modi After Hailing ‘Best in History’ Ties With India Rival China

Putin Hosts Modi After Hailing ‘Best in History’ Ties With India Rival China

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Russia on Monday for the first time in five years at a time when Moscow is deepening its embrace of New Delhi’s rival, China.

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(Bloomberg) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Russia on Monday for the first time in five years at a time when Moscow is deepening its embrace of New Delhi’s rival, China. 

Modi is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the visit, which will stretch into Tuesday. India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters in New Delhi that given the lack of recent summits, several issues on the bilateral agenda “have piled up, which need to be addressed.”

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Senior Indian diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while major announcements are unlikely, Modi’s visit is intended to send a signal that the two sides remain close. Russia’s ties to India stretch back to the Cold War, and the country is India’s biggest supplier of weapons and oil. That relationship has remained “resilient,” Kwatra said.

Hailing his friendship with Putin, Modi said Monday the two countries have made progress on a number of fronts in the last decade, including in energy, security, trade and investment. 

“I look forward to reviewing all aspects of bilateral cooperation with my friend President Vladimir Putin and sharing perspectives on various regional and global issues,” Modi said in a statement as he departed for Moscow. “We seek to play a supportive role for a peaceful and stable region.”

India is watching carefully as Russia draws closer to China, which has served as an economic and diplomatic lifeline amid sanctions over the Kremlin’s grueling war on Ukraine. During a security summit in Kazakhstan last week, Putin described relations with China as the “best in history.” 

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Relations between India and China have been stuck at a low point since a border dispute erupted into violence in 2020, though the two sides have agreed to talks to resolve the disagreement. 

“India, situated between Russia, China, and the West, seeks more predictability from Russia and is willing to play a bigger role in promoting peace” in Ukraine, said Petr Topychkanov, associate senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“Nevertheless, behind closed doors, Putin may face questions from Modi about the increasingly close ties between Russia and China,” he said. 

Moscow will be Modi’s first bilateral visit since he won a third term in office last month. His decision to travel to Russia instead of neighboring countries like Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka marks a break in convention for Indian leaders. For Moscow, the trip helps rebuff Western efforts to cast Putin as a pariah over his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, while also shoring up relations with an important trading partner and key buyer of its oil.

Measures to reduce a trade imbalance between the two countries are likely to figure prominently in the talks, Kwatra said. India currently imports about $60 billion a year in goods from Russia, which is buying less than $5 billion from India. China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific could also come up, he said.

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While in previous years the Indian and Russian leaders met annually, Modi began skipping those summits after Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine in 2022. The two last met that year on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Uzbekistan.

Future arms deals could also be on the agenda, according to Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defense think tank. He said Russia could supply India with new air defense systems and Su-30MKI fighter jets, as well as the licensed production of Ka-226T multipurpose helicopters. India is facing a severe crunch of fighter jets and is considering buying a dozen more from Russia to replace those lost in accidents.

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Modi’s trip comes just weeks after a team of senior US officials traveled to India to discuss cooperation in technology, security and investment. Modi has sought a deeper partnership with the US and is pushing Washington to boost technology transfers and foreign investment. 

The US for its part sees India as a partner in its rivalry with China, but the relationship has at times frustrated Washington. Modi has declined to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even as it has pushed for diplomacy. US prosecutors also are investigating an alleged murder-for-hire plot on American soil that they say involved senior Indian officials.  

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US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in late June said US officials have raised concerns about India-Russia ties with New Delhi, but that Washington retained confidence in India and wants to expand relations. 

In addition to talks with Putin, Modi is expected to meet with members of the Indian community in Russia. About 14,000 Indians, including 4,500 students, reside there, according to the Indian embassy. 

After Moscow, Modi will head to Austria, becoming the first Indian prime minister to visit the country in more than 40 years. He’s expected to meet President Alexander Van Der Bellen and Chancellor Karl Nehammer, and hold talks with business leaders to expand trade and investment opportunities, Modi’s office said in a statement Monday. 

(Updates with statement from Modi in fourth paragraph.)

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