Modi discusses national interests across boundaries with Putin


As Indian and Russian leaders meet for the bilateral summit, they aim to diversify their relationship in line with national interests. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Russia on July 8, marking his first bilateral visit in his new term of office. This visit highlights a relationship built on a solid historical foundation and exceptional trust, despite the turbulence of global geopolitical contests, ongoing wars, and other global challenges affecting both nations.

The main part of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Moscow is scheduled for today (July 9, 2024). The official talks between Russia and India will take place in both narrow and expanded formats, covering bilateral cooperation and the international situation. Although there are no plans for media statements following the discussions, Moscow and New Delhi intend to report on the progress of the negotiations in some form.

Communication between the heads of state began the day before the official talks. Upon arrival in Moscow, Modi traveled in an Aurus to the residence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Novo-Ogaryovo. There, he and President Putin engaged in informal communication over a cup of tea and a walk in the park. This informal setting allowed for a free-flowing agenda, facilitating candid discussions between the leaders.

Moscow and New Delhi frequently engage in frank consultations on China-related issues, which are becoming increasingly important in the emerging global landscape as Beijing’s ambitions grow more evident. This dialogue is crucial as both India and Russia navigate their relationships with China, balancing cooperation and competition.

Russia’s chairmanship of the BRICS+ Summit, hosting over 200 meetings preceding it, adds another layer of significance to this visit. Both leaders have comprehensive agendas, reflecting the complexity and depth of their bilateral relationship.

Modi’s visit to Russia follows his participation in the G7 summit in Italy, where he met with several world leaders, including Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky. Zelensky considers that New Delhi could play a more significant role in resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict, given the special relationship between India and Russia. Modi has consistently advocated for respect for the UN charter, dialogue, and diplomacy, maintaining that “this is not an era of war”.

At the peace summit in Switzerland, India was represented by a senior diplomat who declined to endorse the gathering’s communique, as it was perceived to lead to a more divisive outcome. Despite Russia’s absence, India’s support for a cessation of war and reliance on diplomacy remains firm.

India aims to act as a bridge between the West and East, as well as between the North and South. Modi might serve as a trusted intermediary, especially after gauging the mood of the G7 leaders. However, successful mediation efforts depend on the willingness of both sides to engage constructively.

The Moscow-Kiev conflict, fighting in the Middle East, and lingering impacts of the pandemic have caused significant problems for the ‘Global South,’ whose interests and welfare are integral to India’s foreign policy. With its philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ (The whole world is one family) and its role as a Vishwa Bandhu (Friend of the whole world), New Delhi seeks to find ways to reduce crises impacting its national interests and the global community of least – developed and developing countries.

Modi’s two-day visit is described by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as ‘very important,’ with no topic off-limits for discussion between the two leaders. President Putin has often praised Prime Minister Modi and India’s growth, as well as New Delhi’s strategic autonomy.

India and Russia have struggled for decades to enhance bilateral trade beyond US$10 billion, but New Delhi’s decision to buy more Russian crude took this to an unprecedented $65 billion last year. Moscow has emerged as a major supplier, and Indian public and private-sector companies have successfully entered areas like Rosneft with 20 percent stakes since 2002. This mutual benefit underscores the potential for future collaboration.

Russian pipelines to India need to be seriously explored and advanced with sincerity on both sides. As Moscow hones its ‘Act Asia’ and Eurasia policies, and India progresses with its multi-alignment policy, both nations aspire to strategic autonomy.

The Arctic is a critical zone of geo-economic contest where Moscow is a major player, and New Delhi has devised an Arctic Policy. Russia supports the ‘Make In India’ initiative and the transfer of sensitive technologies in defense, security, space, cyber, and civil nuclear domains. This policy is expected to strengthen bilateral engagement.

Diversification of relationships and interests is guided by each country’s strategic vision, while a realistic understanding of limitations between even the closest friends is essential for a mutually collaborative matrix. Russia-India defense agreements and the recently agreed Reciprocal Exchange Logistics Agreement (RELOS) in the maritime domain will see similar engagements with other strategic partners.

Modi’s last visit to Russia was as Chief Guest at the 2019 Far Eastern Economic Summit, underscoring the Far East’s pivotal importance for the relationship. Slow movement in this area could be costly, and speeding up initiatives like the US$1-billion Line of Credit by Indian businesses could be a trigger for further investments.

Connectivity, especially through the thorough revamping of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Chennai-Vladivostok corridor in the context of the Arctic, requires practical and credible measures by both sides. India’s recent long-term agreement to manage Iran’s Chabahar port is consequential for Afghanistan-Central Asia strategic connectivity and the INSTC, despite threats of US secondary sanctions.

India may open new consulates to enhance its outreach in Russia, the largest country in the world. All relationships come with concerns and issues that need to be addressed straightforwardly, considering realistic expectations from each side. The strong trust between the two leaders and their countries is expected to ensure a productive dialogue and mutual understanding.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Russia signifies the enduring and evolving India-Russia relationship. With discussions ranging from bilateral trade to global geopolitical issues, the summit aims to strengthen strategic ties and address common challenges. The high level of trust and cooperation between India and Russia sets the stage for a meaningful and impactful summit, reflecting their commitment to a diversified and robust partnership.

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