HomeNewsModi to Meet Putin in Moscow as India Charts Its Own Course

Modi to Meet Putin in Moscow as India Charts Its Own Course

India is determined to keep its close ties to Russia despite pressure from the West. Russia sees the meeting as a chance to show it still has influential friends.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia Monday, a visit that signals the Indian leader’s determination to stick to his own diplomatic path even as the West continues to isolate Moscow over its war on Ukraine.

For Mr. Putin, Mr. Modi’s visit will be a way for Russia to show that the Kremlin continues to have a strong partnership with India despite India’s deepening relationship with the United States. India’s purchases of discounted Russian petroleum have helped fill Russia’s coffers depleted by international sanctions over the war, and Russia has sought to cast India as a partner in reshaping the Western-dominated global order.

This is the first visit to Russia by Mr. Modi in five years. He landed in Moscow on Monday and will attend a dinner hosted by Mr. Putin; official talks are scheduled for Tuesday.

Modi to Meet Putin in Moscow
Modi to Meet Putin in Moscow

Mr. Modi arrived on a day when Russia unleashed a brutal aerial bombardment against Ukraine, including a strike on that country’s largest children’s hospital, in Kyiv. The attack has drawn condemnation from the West, and could shine a harsh spotlight on India’s ties with Russia.

The South Asian nation became a major buyer of cheap Russian oil at a time when sanctions by Western countries limited what Russia could sell or charge for the product in international markets. India is building massive nuclear energy power plants with technical assistance from Russia. Russia is also India’s biggest supplier of arms, making the relationship key for India, which has long had to defend its borders against China.

The meeting in Moscow on Tuesday would coincide with the first day of a high-profile summit of NATO leaders in Washington. During the NATO meeting, Western allies are expected to announce additional air defense systems for Ukraine and offer assurances of the alliance’s long-term commitment to Kyiv’s security.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi ahead of Mr. Modi’s trip, Indian officials said the summit between Mr. Modi and Mr. Putin was of “great importance,” but emphasized that relations with Russia were not aimed at any third party. They also sought to downplay the timing of the meeting.

“I would not want to read anything more in that in terms of its significance, except to say that we attach great importance to this annual summit,” Vinay Mohan Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India, said at a news conference on Friday.

The annual summit is an aspect of a longstanding strategic partnership between India and Russia. The two leaders last met in 2021 as part of that partnership, when Mr. Putin visited Delhi. They have met at other events and spoken on the phone multiple times, Indian officials said.

In the nearly two and a half years since launching his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin has attempted to double down on his relationships with global leaders outside the West, as he pursues what he calls a “multipolar” world order free of singular American dominance.

With its vast economic and military resources, China has become the most critical partner in that effort, but Mr. Putin has also touted relations with other nations, including Vietnam, Brazil and India, to prove that Russia will not succumb to the isolation the West is hoping to see.

At an investment forum in Moscow last December, Mr. Putin praised the Indian leader for pursuing an independent foreign policy and refusing to bow to Western pressure. Mr. Modi hasn’t been “scared, intimidated or forced into taking actions or decisions that would go against the national interests of India and the Indian people,” Mr. Putin said.

For Mr. Modi, the meeting is an opportunity to signal India’s determination to carve its own foreign policy path. India, which needs both the United States and Russia to counter China, is constantly trying to balance its relations between Washington and Moscow. Even as it has bolstered ties with Washington, India has refused to publicly denounce Russia over Ukraine, despite pressure from the United States to do so.

Delhi might be seeking to reinforce its relations with Russia to counter Russia’s growing closeness with China, said Happymon Jacob, an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and expert on Indian foreign policy. Mr. Putin and President Xi Jinping of China have become increasingly aligned after declaring a “no limits” partnership in 2022. (The two leaders hailed their countries’ ties at a meeting in Kazakhstan last week.)

India probably realizes that the United States is “unlikely to penalize India for continuing its relationship with Russia,” Mr. Jacob said, with China emerging as Washington’s “principal adversary.”

Mr. Modi could also take up the contentious issue of Russia’s recruitment of Indian nationals to fight its war on Ukraine, according to Mr. Kwatra, the Indian foreign secretary. Several dozen Indian citizens were lured to Russia under “false pretenses,” he said, and the government is working to bring them back.

At the same time, India also needs American backing against China’s potential aggressions in its backyard. China and India have had several border clashes over the decades, including in 2022 and 2020, when 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed. India needs munitions to defend its northern and eastern borders.

Russia is India’s largest supplier of military equipment, but over the years, the share of Russian arms has been declining — partly because that country has older technology. India has sought to diversify its sources of military supplies and pursue defense cooperation agreements, including with the United States. And the United States and India have also said that they would expand cooperation on advanced weaponry, supercomputing and other high-tech fields.

But American officials are concerned about providing equipment and sensitive technology to India if there is a risk that Russia’s military might gain access to it. On a recent visit to New Delhi, Kurt Campbell, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, said the United States wanted a strong technological relationship with India, and has been clear about “which areas are affected by the continuing relationship between India and Russia militarily and technologically.”

India’s defense ties with Russia “may be an irritant for the United States but is insufficient to derail Washington’s military cooperation with India,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, who oversees the Eurasia studies program at the Observer Research Foundation.

Mr. Unnikrishnan said he did not expect India to announce any new military purchases from Russia during the summit. But he thought that the leaders might announce deals in trade and investment and energy cooperation.

Indian officials have said that the country’s trade imbalance with Russia will be a priority for Mr. Modi. India exports only $4 billion worth of goods to Russia and imports $65 billion, much of it because of its purchases of enormous quantities of oil. India wants to increase its exports to Russia across the board, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals and services.

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