India’s partnership with Russia is one of the oldest success stories of global diplomacy, dating back to the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet in Delhi again today after two years.
On the agenda are defence deals, trade announcements in the shadow of difficult geopolitical choices by both.
How they solve these differences will greatly influence regional as well as global politics.
India, US and the China factor
Growing India-US relations, particularly during the Trump Presidency has had an impact on Delhi-Moscow ties, going back over the last decade.
Moscow’s relations with Washington have steadily deteriorated in recent years, but it has been pragmatic while dealing with the Modi Government thus far.
Russia has been compelled to forge closer ties with China as a counter-balance to secure its economic and geopolitical interests, as the US seeks to exert its influence in the region.
What complicates the matter further is that India-China relations have been recently tense, with the Galwan Valley clash which left soldiers dead on both sides at the border.
Importance Of Visit
President Putin’s visit is important in this context of changing geopolitics.
One area where India and Russia will look to cooperate is Afghanistan, where India’s influence may be on the wane with the resurgence of the Taliban. Pakistan, at the current time, is reeling under an economic crisis, but is steadingly increasing its strategic heft, having formed an informal alliance with Russia, Iran and China.
This might be of concern to India and greatly contributes to the significance of the visit.
India and Russia are already partners in several multinational forums like BRICS (also involves Brazil, China, South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (with China, Pakistan and Central Asian countries) and the RIC (Russia, India and China).
These forums give an opportunity to Moscow to mediate between Beijing and Delhi so that stability is ensured in IndoChina.
Defence and Trade Talks
The key issue at the visit is sure to be the delivery of the Russia-made S-400 missile defence system to India.
Despite the threat of US sanctions, India has gone ahead with the order of the defence system. The defence deal is likely to provide India with a crucial strategic deterrence against China and Pakistan.
It will be interesting to see how India balances ties with the two superpowers under the shadow of the S-400 deal. Indian diplomats feel the decision to buy S-400 also upholds India’s famed practice of ‘strategic autonomy’ from the time of the first nuclear tests.
Russia continues to be India’s largest arms supplier even as India’s aims to boost its domestic defence manufacturing.
Trade between the two countries has remained at $11bn and skewed in Russia’s favor, as it exported goods and services worth $7.24bn, according to a report from the Indian government. In comparison, India-US bilateral goods and services trade stood at $146bn in the same period, so there’s a bit to catch up on.
Russia and India have now set a target of reaching $30bn in bilateral trade by the end of 2025.
India’s had allocated a $1bn line of credit to businesses to invest in Russia’s Far East region will also help boost trade between the countries.
Talks over a free trade agreement between India and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union are also likely to progress. If the deal happens, it will help businesses move goods easily between the two regions.
The India-Russia S-400 deal has “a very important practical meaning for Indian defence capability”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India today.
“S-400 deal doesn’t have only a symbolic meaning. It has a very important practical meaning for an Indian defence capability & situation is basically underway. Deal has been implemented,” the envoy said as per news agency ANI.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brief but important visit to India is being watched by the world. Putin, who has not travelled much outside Russia during the pandemic, is making the trip to Delhi, at a time when the pandemic is still raging in his country. He has only travelled to Geneva for the summit meeting with US President Joe Biden. This is his second visit outside Russia this year.
India, however, has a historical relationship with Russia, spanning over the last seven decades. While the relationship has stagnated in some areas and atrophied in some others, the strongest pillar of the strategic partnership is of the defence basket.
Although New Delhi has consciously diversified its new purchases from other countries, the bulk of its defence equipment is from Russia. Estimates say 60 to 70 per cent of India’s supplies are from Russia, and New Delhi needs regular and reliable supply from Russia for the spare parts from the Russian defence industry.Opinion |Putin’s visit must be used to realise the potential of India-Russia ties
In fact, Modi has held informal summits with only two countries — Xi and Putin. At this time of tension at the border, Defence minister Rajnath Singh had discussed the issue of defence equipment supply and purchase of new systems — like the S-400 missile defence system — with the Russian top brass in the military and government.
So, flowing from the understanding that Russia has leverage over Beijing because of recent proximity, and New Delhi has had a history of robust bilateral ties with Moscow, the present outreach is significant.
The two sides also have a shared concern of terrorism, as the security situation emanating out of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan remains challenging.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visiting Russian President will on Monday focus on terrorism as a common threat to both countries and the region.
Top government sources told The Indian Express on Sunday that the two sides have worked “very closely” on the issue of threats of terrorism, terrorist financing, flow of arms and drugs trade, and that is expected to be reflected in the joint statement after Putin meets Modi.
The top government source pointed out that Delhi and Moscow have worked together on at least three major multilateral groupings — Russia-India-China (RIC), BRICS and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), and the conversation will be carried forward at the bilateral meetings as well.
Officials said that in the recent Russia-India-China meeting, India had negotiated hard on including reference to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The two sides are also stepping up defence cooperation. Ahead of the summit, India has cleared the long-pending AK 203 Kalashnikov rifles deal worth nearly Rs 5,000 crore for production of over five lakh such rifles at Korwa in Amethi by an Indo-Russian joint venture.
On cooperation in areas of defence, sources said the two sides are set to focus on co-production and co-development of military equipment and platforms.
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