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Putin In India: Partnership Questions Answered

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed, at their summit meeting in New Delhi on December 6 (2021), to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. In a lengthy joint statement posted on the Kremlin site TASS, the relevant section reads: “The leaders reiterated strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan while emphasising the respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and non-interference in its internal affairs. They also discussed the current humanitarian situation and decided to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

Qualified Indian observers think that President Putin is trying to convey through this trip (and also through Russia’s recent geostrategic activities) that he knows Sino-Indian ties have hit the nadir. India had been vociferous about the PLA’s (the People’s Liberation Army of China) belligerence at Galwan and the Line of Actual Control (LAC). At the height of the Galwan crisis, Russia supplied the first squadron of S-400 Air Defence Missile Systems to India, making a signature statement.

PM Modi with President Putin

Over the years, Western pundits have ‘announced’ that Russia’s building of bridges with China means its planned distancing from India. One reason for President Putin’s visit is to expose that nonsense. It is to be noted that prior to his visit to New Delhi, the Russian Strongman hosted the Vietnamese President. Both Vietnam and India have border disputes with China, and they make no bones about it.

Russia’s share in India’s defence apparatus dominates, and joint production of AK-203 assault rifle is the biggest ‘Make in India‘ project so far, reminiscent of the BrahMoS missile. The renewed 10-year defence and mutual logistics pacts are testimony of time-tested bilateral defence partnership marked by technology transfer. In other words, Russia will not play the role of a junior partner in its relationship with China, notwithstanding what the pundits claim. Notably, Russia is making its presence felt in West Asia, besides parts of Africa, and has plans for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The Kremlin continues to be a pre-eminent political player in Central Asia and Eurasia.

Not much touted in the media, but it is India’s backing that recently enabled Russia to achieve the status of an Indian Ocean RIM Association dialogue partner. India has been nudging Russia to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) amid China’s growing presence, and the 2+2 (Foreign and Defence) ministerial meeting would explore the partnership in this region. When China sent a junior representative in August 2021, the Russian President was the only Head of State present at the UNSC Maritime Security Meet convened by India, a non-permanent member.

Russia is also in sync with India on Afghanistan following the latest takeover of the war-ravaged country by the Taliban. Russia backed India at the UNSC on not extending the 90-day travel waiver for Taliban leaders, despite a strong demand from China to grant a 180-day waiver.

Indian Ocean Region

Russia has been extremely keen that India increase its footprints in resource-rich Far East Russia. Far East Russia presents huge opportunities for India, across sectors from infrastructure to key commodities to hospitality, to agriculture to shipbuilding, to name a few. Indian oil and gas companies are keen to further expand their investments in Russian oil and gas fields, including in the Far East Russia and Arctic region. India’s cumulative investment in oil and gas projects in Russia exceeds USD 15 billion. It is the single largest destination of Indian overseas investment in this sector.

The Russian President’s visit to the South Asian country is an important one, keeping in mind the changing Global Geopolitical landscape. This time, President Putin arrived in New Delhi with his Defence and Foreign Ministers. The visiting President and Indian Prime Minister Modi signed a total of 28 trade and arms deals, including one that would allow India to produce more than 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. Furthermore, the two friendly nations reinforced their ties with a military and technical co-operation pact until 2031, and a pledge to boost annual trade to USD 30 billion in the next four years. Most importantly, India has decided to acquire more Russian S-400 Air Defence Missile Systems, ignoring the risk of sanctions from the US under a 2017 US Law, which is aimed at deterring countries from purchasing Russian military hardware. While India is balancing its ties with Russia and the US, Russia is doing the same with India and Pakistan (and also China). That is why President Putin called India a Great Power, and in response to that Prime Minister Modi said that India-Russia friendship “has remained a constant, despite many fundamental changes on the world stage and the two countries have cooperated closely while paying attention to each other’s sensitivities”.

Indian experts are of the opinion that President Putin’s visit shows India-Russia ties are truly special, and ties between the two countries would not be the next casualty of Great-Power Shifts, as predicted by Western Foreign Policy Experts in recent past. Instead, the two countries are working towards just and equal Multipolar World. Just before the Russian President’s arrival in New Delhi, Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission in the Indian capital Roman Babushkin stressed that Putin’s visit would leave the strategic partnership upgraded, and Moscow and New Delhi were two powers working for global security when some countries were being “confrontational“. In a nutshell, President Putin’s visit to India to meet Prime Minister Modi is hugely symbolic and strategic, as the two leaders have triggered a new era of Global Geo-politics.

This article has been co-authored by Christopher Lewis of Schiller Institute, Frankfurt, Germany and Koushik Das.

Christopher Lewis

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