Modi’s Russia Visit: Talks with Putin on Ukraine Conflict and Expanding Economic Ties

Featured & Cover Modi's Russia Visit Talks with Putin on Ukraine Conflict and Expanding Economic Ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Russia on Monday for his first visit to the country in nearly five years. His discussions with President Vladimir Putin are set to cover a range of topics, from economic cooperation to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The last meeting between the two leaders occurred in September 2022, during a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Uzbekistan. This was months after Russia had invaded Ukraine, leading to Western sanctions that strained New Delhi-Moscow relations. During that meeting, Modi urged Putin to end the conflict, stating, “today’s era is not of war.”

Upon his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo-II VIP airport, Modi was greeted by Denis Manturov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, who extended a tri-services guard of honor. Manturov, senior to the deputy prime minister who had welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping recently, escorted Modi to his hotel.

Before the 22nd India-Russia Summit on Tuesday, Putin hosted Modi for a private meeting and dinner at his dacha in Novo-Ogaryovo, a privilege reserved for a select few visiting leaders. This private setting allowed the leaders to discuss sensitive issues like the Ukraine conflict and the repatriation of Indian nationals recruited into the Russian Army.

Economic cooperation, including energy, trade, manufacturing, and fertilizers, is the primary focus of this visit. In the context of the Ukraine war, an Indian official mentioned that the Indian side would stress that “a solution cannot be found on the battlefield.”

In a statement before his departure from New Delhi, Modi expressed his anticipation to “review all aspects of bilateral cooperation with my friend President Vladimir Putin and share perspectives on various regional and global issues.” He added, “We seek to play a supportive role for a peaceful and stable region.”

Modi highlighted that the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia had progressed over the past decade in areas such as energy, security, trade, investment, health, education, culture, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges.

On Tuesday, Modi’s engagements will start with an interaction with the Indian community. He will then lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin and visit the Rosatom pavilion, showcasing the latest advancements in nuclear energy. Modi and Putin will hold restricted discussions followed by delegation-level talks during the annual summit.

In a significant move, Modi chose Russia for his first bilateral visit in his third term, just weeks after traveling to Italy for the G7 Summit’s outreach session. This decision is viewed as an assertion of India’s policy of “strategic autonomy” in its foreign affairs and the significance New Delhi places on its relationship with Moscow.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar noted that the annual summit, last held in 2021, provides an opportunity for Modi and Putin to discuss crucial issues like the trade imbalance. While India and Russia had aimed for bilateral trade of $30 billion by 2025, it surged to $65.7 billion in 2023-24, primarily due to India’s purchases of discounted Russian crude following Western sanctions and a price cap. Trade is currently skewed in Russia’s favor, with Indian exports amounting to less than $5 billion.

The Indian side is expected to urge Russia to diversify and increase its imports. Both countries will also work on streamlining payments in national currencies and overcoming the constraints imposed by Western sanctions on Russia’s banking system.

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra mentioned that the early discharge of Indian nationals “misled into the service of the Russian Army” would also be discussed. Although the exact number of Indians serving in the Russian military is unclear, estimates range from 30 to 45. Following the deaths of four Indians on the Ukraine frontlines, India has sought a “verified stop” to further recruitment by the Russian Army.

Despite these discussions, India will continue to navigate the diplomatic complexities of the Ukraine issue. Concurrently with the Modi-Putin summit, US President Joe Biden will host NATO leaders to celebrate the alliance’s 75th anniversary. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who met Modi at the G7 Summit, will also attend the meeting in Washington.

Following his Russia visit, Modi will head to Austria, becoming the first Indian premier to visit the country in over four decades. He will meet President Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Karl Nehammer to discuss enhancing the bilateral “partnership to even greater heights in new and emerging areas of innovation, technology, and sustainable development.” Modi emphasized, “Austria is our steadfast and reliable partner, and we share the ideals of democracy and pluralism.”

Modi and Nehammer will also engage with business leaders from both nations to explore mutually beneficial trade and investment opportunities. Additionally, Modi will interact with the Indian community in Austria.

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