On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in India for his second overseas trip since the pandemic, seeking to bolster military and energy ties with a traditional ally being courted by Washington.
In its efforts to address a rising China, Washington has set up the QUAD security dialogue with India, Japan, and Australia, raising concerns in both Beijing and Moscow.
India was close to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a relationship that has endured, with New Delhi calling it a ‘special and privileged strategic partnership.’
“The friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time. You have always been a great friend of India,” PM Modi told Putin at a virtual summit in September.
It is only the Russian leader’s second trip abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began. He skipped both the G20 and COP26 summits this year, after a June summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva. “It’s hugely symbolic,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan from New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank. India and Russia are likely to sign a 10-year military-technical agreement that could help in the transfer of new technologies to India.
But Putin has to contend with complex regional dynamics, with tensions mounting between India and Russia’s traditional ally China following deadly clashes in a disputed Himalayan region.
Tatiana Belousova of OP Jindal Global University in Haryana said that Russia’s influence in the region is very limited mostly because of its close ties with China and unwillingness to act in dissonance with the Chinese regional interests.
The Kremlin said that last week the talks will be dominated by defence and energy issues, with the boss of Russian energy giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, also travelling as a number of important energy agreements were on the table.
Russia has long been a key arms supplier to India, which is looking to modernise its armed forces, and one of their most high-profile current contracts is for the long-range S-400 ground-to-air missile defence system. The deal, worth over $5 billion, was signed in 2018 and deliveries have reportedly begun, but it threatens to upend the burgeoning relationship between New Delhi and Washington.
The US has threatened sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which is aimed at reining in Russia, and the state department said last week that no decisions had been made on any waivers for India. “It is quite remarkable that India still decided to go ahead with the S-400 deal, despite the US disapproval,” said Belousova.
India is also keen to increase domestic production and has launched a joint venture with Russia to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles.
India and Russia normally hold annual summits, but the leaders’ last in-person meeting was on the side-lines of the 2019 BRICS Summit in Brazil. They also held the inaugural 2+2 ministerial dialogue on Monday between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries.
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was quoted as saying by Indian news agency ANI that India-Russia defence engagements have progressed in an unprecedented manner in recent times. “We hope Russia will remain a major partner for India in these challenging circumstances,” he stated.
Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said the meeting would address the emergence of multipolarity and rebalancing. “We look at the consequence of over-centralized globalization. Long-standing challenges of terrorism, violent extremism remain among newer challenges,” he mentioned.