Modi to Visit Russia Amidst Rising Russia-China Relations and Economic Challenges

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(Bloomberg) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Russia on Monday for the first time in five years, as Moscow strengthens its ties with New Delhi’s rival, China.

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Modi’s visit, spanning into Tuesday, includes a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra noted that several bilateral issues need addressing due to the lack of recent summits.

Senior Indian diplomats, speaking anonymously, indicated that while significant announcements are unlikely, Modi’s visit aims to reaffirm the strong historical ties between India and Russia. Russia remains India’s largest supplier of weapons and oil, maintaining a “resilient” relationship, according to Kwatra.

However, India is carefully monitoring Russia’s growing closeness to China, which has supported Moscow economically and diplomatically amidst sanctions over the war in Ukraine. Putin recently described Russia-China relations as the “best in history” during a security summit in Kazakhstan.

India-China relations have been strained since a violent border dispute in 2020, although both nations have agreed to negotiations. Petr Topychkanov from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute stated, “India, situated between Russia, China, and the West, seeks more predictability from Russia and is willing to play a bigger role in promoting peace in Ukraine.”

Modi’s visit to Russia, his first bilateral trip since winning a third term last month, diverges from the conventional choice of visiting neighboring countries first. For Moscow, this visit helps counter Western efforts to isolate Putin over the Ukraine invasion and strengthens ties with a key trading partner.

Reducing the trade imbalance between the two countries will be a major topic of discussion, Kwatra said. India imports about $60 billion annually from Russia, while Russia buys less than $5 billion from India. China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific could also be discussed, according to India’s top diplomat.

While annual summits between Indian and Russian leaders were once common, Modi skipped these after Putin’s nuclear threats in 2022. Their last meeting was at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan that same year.

Future arms deals might also be on the agenda. Ruslan Pukhov from the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow suggested that Russia could supply India with new air defense systems, Su-30MKI fighter jets, and Ka-226T multipurpose helicopters. India, facing a fighter jet shortage, is considering purchasing additional jets from Russia.

Modi’s visit follows a recent trip by senior US officials to India to discuss cooperation in technology, security, and investment. Modi has been seeking a deeper partnership with the US, which sees India as a counterbalance to China, although the relationship has had its challenges. Modi has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pushing instead for diplomacy. Additionally, US prosecutors are investigating an alleged murder-for-hire plot involving senior Indian officials.

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell stated in late June that US officials have raised concerns about India-Russia ties with New Delhi but expressed confidence in the expanding US-India relationship.

Modi is also expected to meet with the Indian community in Russia, which includes about 14,000 residents and 4,500 students, according to the Indian embassy.

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