Putin visits India amid New Delhi's growing friendship with Washington

Russian leader's whirlwind visit to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being regarded as an effort to realign relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands after delivering a joint statement following their talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on October 5, 2018. / AFP / POOL / Yuri KADOBNOV
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Military deals and geopolitics will top the agenda during Russian President Vladimir Putin's whirlwind visit to India on Monday.

The trip is a result of the traditional allies seeking to improve ties despite New Delhi’s growing friendliness with Washington.

India and the US have forged closer relations in recent years to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

But this has overshadowed what India and Russia have described as a “special, privileged strategic partnership”, particularly as Moscow remains a long-time partner of Beijing.

Mr Putin’s nearly eight-hour stay in New Delhi on Monday to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi is regarded as a renewed outreach by Russia to realign the relationship.

The approach is expected to strengthen military and diplomatic ties, despite both countries following different paths on vital geopolitical issues.

It will be Mr Putin’s first bilateral visit in nearly two years following the outbreak of the global pandemic. Experts say the trip to India carries a lot of importance and symbolism.

“This meeting conveys a message globally that Putin coming down to India, when he has not travelled abroad, implies that he is giving importance to Indo-Russian relations,” Harsha Kakar, a retired major general in the Indian Army, told The National.

Mr Putin will hold a one-on-one meeting with Mr Modi. Their foreign and defence ministers will also hold talks.

About 10 bilateral agreements will be signed during the visit, Yuri Ushakov, a Russian presidential aides, was quoted as saying by Tass news agency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is making his first bilateral tour to India in nearly two years. Photo: Reuters

The two leaders will also take part in the 21st annual summit between the two countries. Mr Modi visited Russia for the last summit in 2019.

Last year’s annual meeting was cancelled owing to the pandemic and amid Moscow’s growing discontent over New Delhi’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – an informal alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India to counter China in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The fact remains – despite irritants and some divergence in their regional interest or world view, the two countries still find each other to be very important partners,” said Sanjay Kumar Pandey, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for Russian and Central Studies.

The focus of the visit will remain the delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defence system to New Delhi as it seeks to modernise its military amid growing tensions with China and arch-rival Pakistan.

The $5.4-billion deal signed in 2018 could, however, disrupt the growing camaraderie between India and the US.

Washington could impose sanctions on New Delhi for breaching the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. This can punish countries regarded as acting against US interests.

Russia 'needs Indian investment'

India has reportedly received several units of the S-400 Triumf missiles while ignoring US concerns, stating that the deal was a “sovereign decision”.

Russia has historically remained New Delhi’s largest arms supplier and the two countries are likely to sign several military hardware deals, including one joint venture to manufacture 750,000 AK-203 assault rifles for India's armed forces.

Experts say the US will move carefully regarding India’s military deals with Russia, and New Delhi should remain steadfast in its relationship with Moscow.

“Russia wants its continued stake in the Indian defence market, which are its main exports, Mr Kakar said.

"It needs Indian investments – both nations are going to be looking at moving forward rather than letting stumbling blocks get in their way.”

India was a close ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War but growing ties between Washington and New Delhi to counter Beijing has made Moscow jittery because both China and Russia aim to blunt US global influence.

The leaders are also likely to discuss the regional rift between India and China that has led to the US backing India, and the volatile situation in Afghanistan that remains a security concern for the entire region.

Updated: December 05, 2021, 10:36 AM