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Putin In India – inaugurating a new stage in a time-tested relationship

Russia has continued to be a strong and reliable partner of India in defence cooperation, even after the clash between India and China in June, 2020 (Images courtesy: PIB and Indian Embassy in Moscow)

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India on December 6 represents a huge upturn in the India-Russia relations. This will be the first international bilateral visit by Putin since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic about two years ago. The fact that Putin’s first stand-alone visit is to India is reaffirmation of the underlying strength and resilience of the India-Russia relationship, notwithstanding the rapid flux in geo-politics in the region.  

Putin’s earlier visit outside Russia was in June this year to Geneva for a summit with President Joe Biden. That was, however, an interaction in a third country and not a bilateral visit to another country. Putin’s visit can also be seen as his way of signalling that although Russia’s relations with China are vital and critical, particularly because of Russia’s heavy dependence on China for export of its oil, gas and defence equipment as also because of the stringent sanctions imposed on it by the West as a result of Crimea’s accession to/annexation by Russia in 2014, its ties with India are no less decisive or significant.

The fact that Putin is undertaking this visit in spite of the high incidence of coronavirus cases in Russia (around 35,000 daily cases with 1,200 deaths) and notwithstanding the looming threat of confrontation on the Ukraine border, is illustrative of the strategic value that Putin attaches to relations with India. He is convinced of the imperative need to nurture and strengthen them in spite of the worsening relations between India and China over the last 18 months.

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On the bilateral front, discussions during the visit are likely to take off from where they were left two years ago during the visit of PM Narendra Modi as Chief Guest to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September, 2019. A number of far-reaching decisions were taken on that occasion in diverse areas to strengthen bilateral ties in defence, nuclear energy cooperation, hydrocarbons, space, shipbuilding, railways, diamond industry etc. Russia had then invited India to collaborate actively with it in the Arctic region, establish a Chennai-Vladivostok marine connectivity link, encourage Indian diaspora to relocate to Russia, expand Indian investments in Russia’s Far East, and much more.

Russia’s Far East is a huge expanse of virgin territory, highly rich in minerals and natural resources but with sparse population on account of the inclement weather. There are increasing apprehensions that the burgeoning population of China on the Russia-China border could be pushed into this area. These fears got further aggravated by recent commentaries in the Chinese media claiming that the Primosky Krai territory, of which Vladivostok is the administrative capital, originally belonged to it and was usurped by Russia in 1860.

PM Modi during his visit in 2019 had launched the Act Far East Policy and announced a Line of Credit of US$1 billion to explore opportunities for greater Indian engagement with the region.

The simultaneous holding of the 2+2 dialogue which has so far existed only with the three partners of the Quad viz Australia, Japan and USA, can be seen as another feather in the cap of the vibrant partnership. This adds one more significant layer to the annual bilateral Summit engagement which make New Delhi-Moscow ties even more consequential and pivotal.

Russia has continued to be a strong and reliable partner of India in defence cooperation, even after the clash between India and China in June, 2020. This is evident in the expeditious supply of the S-400 Triumf air defence systems, as requisitioned by India. The defence trade between India and Russia has witnessed a jump from US$2-3 billion a year in 2018 to around US$9-10 billion in 2021.

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Last month, an Indian Navy Frigate of P1135.6 class “Tushil’’ was launched in Moscow. This was pursuant to the Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in 2018 for the construction of four frigates – two in Russia and two at the Goa Shipyard Limited under Transfer of Technology provisions. In addition, production of 700,000 AK-203 rifles is expected to start soon in Amethi. The two sides are engaged in advanced talks for procuring MiG-29K for the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-1, more T-90 tanks as well as additional Su-30 MKI for the Indian Air Force. Discussions during the Summit and 2+2 meeting could see some major announcements including on the above issues, joint human space flight programme ‘’Gaganyaan’’ and others.

Nuclear energy cooperation could witness a further boost by announcement of the 6th unit of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant project as well as the additional six units of nuclear power reactors, most probably in Andhra Pradesh. Russia is India’s only partner which has supplied the third generation, most advanced nuclear power technology to India.

On the regional front, Afghanistan and climate change are likely to occupy much of the time at the Summit and 2+2 deliberations. Increasing convergence in the thinking and perception between the leaders has been visible since the telephonic conversation between them in late August, 2021 when they decided to establish a ‘’private bilateral channel’’ to stay in touch on this issue. As a follow up, the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council General Nikolai Patrushev visited India twice over a two-month period, once in September for a bilateral exchange of views with his counterpart and again in November for the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue convened by the NSA Ajit Doval.

Discussions on expanding trade to the targeted level of US$30 billion by 2025, on connectivity and the International North-South Transport Corridor, proposed free trade agreement between India and the Eurasian Economic Union, proposed gas pipeline project from Russia to India and promoting people-to-people contacts are also likely to be held.

President Putin’s visit, while reaffirming the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia, can be expected to provide a monumental boost to bilateral ties.

(Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, is an Executive Council Member, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. He is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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