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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Putin’s visit to India: Implications for South Asia?

The Russian president appears to have wanted to establish that Moscow can handle the India and China relationships independently of each other during the time of his visit. Putin’s visit is seen as an effort to repair the damage done to the relationship over the last couple of years, as Russia and India drifted apart. For Russia, China has become its go-to all-rround strategic partner especially against the backdrop of Moscow’s isolation from the West. But for India, China has become a primary threat

The Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Modi had met last week. The recent visit of Russian President Putin to India was for part of the annual summit meeting between Russian and Indian leadership under the Russia-India strategic partnership. The meeting could not be held last year due to COVID-19 and this was the 21st Russia-India summit meeting. The goal of this meeting was to nurture and provide a further boost to the bilateral relationship between Russia and India, what India calls the “India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.

It is interesting to note that the Russia-India strategic partnership has a series of recent differences that emerged due to new geopolitical dynamics especially in Asia. India has established a close relationship with the US. China and America are going to indulge in a new cold war and this rivalry has kept China and Russia closer to each other. Similarly, China and India have had a dispute over border issues and tense relationships since the 1962 Sino-India war. It is quite interesting to note that both Russia and India have problems with the best friend of the other.

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Challenges to Russia and India

The recent challenge to the Russia-India relationship is to keep an old romance alive as Delhi and Moscow are associated with more attractive partners. If Delhi’s friendship with Washington has never been as deep as it is today, Moscow’s hug with Beijing is firmer than ever. The possible cold war between the US and China will make the bilateral relations between Russia and India more complicated.

What did Putin and Modi want to achieve from this meeting? And, what is the outcome of this summit?  These two questions will be addressed in this column. Russia and India have a long history of a strong bilateral relationship spanning over the last seven decades, however, it has stagnated in the wake of emerging geopolitical realities. And, the current visit, though very brief, seems to be an attempt to reset this bilateral relationship. However, it seems to be quite challenging for both countries to retain the past spirit of the old relationship as India has joined the US-led West while Russia is consistently being blocked by the American-led western world.

To strengthen the bilateral apparatus, a new format, the 2+2 ministerial meeting between the Foreign ministers and Defence ministers of both sides has also taken place. Traditionally Russia and India have a diverse relationship but the defence basket is the central and dominant component of the contemporary relationship. The two countries are stepping up defence cooperation. Ahead of the summit, India has cleared the long-pending AK203 Kalashnikov rifles-deal worth for production of over five lakhs such rifles in India by an Indo-Russian joint venture. The two countries have also signed a 10-year agreement from 2021 to 2031 for military technology cooperation.

According to Indian media reports, Russia has shipped the first deliveries of the S-400 long-range air defence systems, the agreement for which was signed in 2018, and India is determined not to back off from it despite the possibility of sanctions by the United States. In addition to it, 28 agreements ranging from oil and energy to intellectual property rights and culture have also been signed. Bilateral trade between Russia and India is stagnant at under 10 billion dollars and both countries want to increase the annual trade to 30 billion dollars by 2025 while bilateral investment to reach 50 billion dollars.

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However, the Russia-India Summit was not all smooth sailing and as per Indian analysts, the agreements were expected but not announced. The two sides could not conclude the reciprocal logistics support agreement (RELOS) and according to the Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Sharingla, it was put off for the time being due to some pending issues.

Are we going to witness another cold war?

Although Russia and India have a long history of cordial relations and the relationship between the two sides has been strong, with strong defence cooperation, Russia has been at the top of the list of countries selling arms to India.

After the end of the cold war, especially in the face of growing economic competition and political tensions between the United States and China, relations between Russia and India have not remained as warm as in the past, and the future relationship between them will largely rely on the ups and downs of the Moscow-Washington-Beijing trilateral relationship. Russia and China have come closer to each other in the face of US pressure, while the United States has established a strategic partnership with India to tighten the noose around China and protect its interests in the Indo-Pacific region. India has also joined QUAD.

Read more: Biden to warn Putin of economic pain if he invades Ukraine

Russia cannot sacrifice its recent close ties with China over India, which already has a strategic relationship with the United States and also shares common interests with it in the Indo-Pacific region, including South Asia. Changing political dynamics in the region have led to a multifaceted relationship between Pakistan and Russia, including the participation of the two countries in the joint military exercises and Russia’s involvement in the energy sector. The cooperation includes a plan to lay a 1,100 km long gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore under the name of Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline. Due to the deep friendship between Pakistan and China, Russia can be expected to maintain a balance in its relations with Pakistan and India


Dr. Tahir Ashraf is an author who writes extensively on global politics and holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur and teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, Pakistan. He can be accessed at tahirmian1@bzu.edu.pk.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.