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Indian Prime Minister Modi is making his first visit to Russia’s ally since the start of its war against Ukraine

MOSCOW: India’s prime minister begins a two-day visit to Russia on Monday, his first since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine, a war that has complicated the relationship between the longtime allies and pushed Russia closer to India’s rival China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit will include a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, whom he last saw in Russia in 2019, in the far eastern port of Vladivostok. The two leaders also met in person in September 2022 in Uzbekistan, at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization bloc.
Russia has had close ties with India since the Cold War, and New Delhi’s importance as a key trading partner for Moscow has grown since the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine in February 2022. China and India have become key buyers of Russian oil following sanctions by the United States and its allies who have closed most Western markets to Russian exports.
Under Modi, India has avoided condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine, while stressing the need for a peaceful settlement.
However, the partnership between Moscow and New Delhi has become strained since Russia began to develop closer ties with India’s main rival, China, due to hostilities in Ukraine.
Modi stayed away last week from the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Kazakhstan.
Chietigj Bajpaee, senior South Asia researcher at the UK-based Chatham House, said India is becoming increasingly distant from forums where Russia and China play a prominent role.
“This is evident in India’s relatively low-key chairmanship of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year, and now Modi’s decision not to attend this year’s summit,” Bajpaee said.
A June 2020 standoff along the disputed China-India border dramatically altered their already delicate relationship, as the rival troops fought with stones, clubs and fists. At least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers were killed. Tensions have persisted since then, despite the talks.
These tensions have seeped into how New Delhi views Moscow.
“Russia’s relations with China have been a cause for concern for India in the context of China’s growing assertiveness in the region,” D. Bala Venkatesh Verma, India’s former ambassador to Russia, told The Associated Press.
But Modi will seek to continue close ties with Russia, an important trade partner and major defense supplier for India.
Since Western sanctions blocked Russian oil exports after the start of the war in Ukraine, India has become a key buyer of Russian oil. It now receives more than 40 percent of Russia’s oil imports, according to analysts.
India is also heavily dependent on Russia for military supplies, but with Moscow’s supply line hit by the fighting in Ukraine, India has diversified its defense purchases, buying more from the US, Israel, France and Italy.
“Defence cooperation will clearly be a priority area,” Bajpaee said, adding that 60 percent of India’s military equipment and systems are “still of Russian origin.”
“We have noticed some delay in the supply of spare parts … following the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “I think both countries are going to conclude a military logistics agreement, which would pave the way for more defense exchanges.”
India adopted a neutral stance, neither condemning nor condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine, and called for negotiations to end the fighting. That, in turn, has strengthened Putin’s efforts to counter what he calls Western dominance of global affairs.
Facing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for actions related to the war in Ukraine, Putin’s trips abroad have been relatively rare in recent years, so Modi’s trip could help the Russian leader boost his image.
“We kind of see Putin going on a nostalgia trip — you know, he was in Vietnam, he was in North Korea,” said Theresa Fallon, an analyst at the Center for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies. “From my point of view, he is trying to prove that he is not a vassal of China, that he has options, that Russia is still a great power.”
Alexander Gabuev, head of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said Putin’s interactions on the world stage show he is “far from isolated” and that Russia is not a country to be ignored.
Trade development will also figure heavily in the talks, particularly plans to develop a maritime corridor between India’s main port, Chennai, and Vladivostok, Russia’s gateway to the Far East.
Trade between India and Russia has seen a sharp rise to nearly $65 billion in the 2023-24 financial year due to strong energy cooperation, India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told reporters on Friday.
Imports from Russia reached $60 billion and exports from India $4 billion in the 2023-24 financial year, Kwatra said. India’s fiscal year runs from April to March.
He said India was trying to correct the trade imbalance with Russia by increasing its exports. India’s top exports to Russia include drugs and pharmaceuticals, telecommunication instruments, iron and steel, marine products and machinery.
Russia’s top imports include crude oil and petroleum products, coal and coke, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, fertilizers, vegetable oil, gold and silver.

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