Modi’s Visit to Russia: An Effort to Send a Firm Message to West and China

PM Modi’s visit to Russia is aimed at killing two birds with a single arrow. While the West led by the US will be forced to re-evaluate its ties with India, on the other hand the PM wants Russia to stand with India in face of any future Indo-China clash

By Shankar Kumar

Opinion

Now it is official: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is embarking on a two-day visit to Russia, beginning from July 8. This will be the first bilateral visit to Russia by Modi in his third term as the Prime Minister, signalling the importance he attaches to relations with the Eurasian country which has stood by India through thick and thin in the last more than 75 years of bilateral engagement between the two countries.

ads

As stability in the relations is a major factor of bonding between the two countries, PM Modi’s decision to choose Russia as the destination of his first bilateral visit, first since 2019, hints about continuity of India’s independent foreign policy approach, which is what many countries, including the US do not want New Delhi to pursue.

Fodder for West’s review

Prime Minister Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be meeting in Moscow almost on the same day when US President Joe Biden is hosting the NATO summit in Washington DC. At the NATO summit, the US and its allies will take stock of the situation arising from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, how to create a strong deterrence against Russia and how to protect Europe from Putin’s advancing army will be a major agenda of discussion.

Given this, Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with the Russian President is expected to offer a much-needed fodder to the West to analyse India’s move on the international diplomatic chessboard. They may see it as New Delhi’s overt support to Moscow. They have already not hidden their unease with India for its refusal to associate itself with a joint communiqué, which 80 countries issued at the end of a peace summit on Ukraine in Switzerland on June 16.

PM Modi’s decision to choose Russia as the destination of his first bilateral visit, hints about continuity of India’s independent foreign policy approach, which is what many countries, including the US do not want New Delhi to pursue

To counter negative perceptions against India among Western bloc, New Delhi has maintained that the Prime Ministerial visit has to do with an annual summit with Russia, which has not taken place for the past three years since 2021.

big bang

“We look at our relationship with Russia purely from a framework of reference of bilateral relationships. Annual summit has not been held between the two countries since 2021, and this has been scheduled to be held at this time. I think this is all there is to it.” Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said during a special press briefing on July 5.

Checkmating China

Some experts argue that PM Modi’s visit to Russia has more to do with India’s effort to check Moscow’s complete slide towards China, which has become a major bugbear for New Delhi and the international community because of its hegemonistic approach in the Indo-Pacific. In the immediate context, PM Modi’s distancing himself from Chinese President Xi Jinping can be ostensibly seen in his decision to skip the just concluded SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

huges

It is seen as his bid to avoid any direct contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping. There was no meeting between PM Modi and President Xi at the SCO summit in Samarkand in 2022. India had held the SCO summit virtually last year, obscuring any chance of interaction between PM Modi and President Xi. However, both leaders had a brief interaction at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg last year.

Some experts argue that PM Modi’s visit to Russia has more to do with India’s effort to check Moscow’s complete slide towards China, which has become a major bugbear for New Delhi

In fact, the Galwan Valley incident of June 2020 has torn asunder trust between India and China. Beijing’s continued deployment of thousands of troops along the Line of Actual Control and stationing of advanced J-20 stealth fighter jets less than 150 kms from India’s border in Sikkim, have led to an understanding that Beijing wants to humiliate its South Asian neighbour by inflicting a short and sharp attack in the border areas. While India with improved infrastructure in the border areas and battle-hardened armed forces who are today better equipped, is ready to counter any military threat from China, yet it is concerned about deepening of Russia and China ties.

Soon after his victory in the elections, Putin landed in Beijing on May 16, 2024, where Xi Jinping not only threw a grand welcome for him at the Great Hall of People, he also described China’s relations with Russia as “everlasting” and a model for new international relations.

The Russian President’s visit underscored growing economic ties between Moscow and Beijing as the two nations signed a series of agreements aimed at closer cooperation. Putin heaped praise on bilateral engagement between Russia and China as their annual trade reached $240 billion. Putin promised to supply more oil and gas to China in the coming years.

India’s fear

There is a feeling among experts that China will never want Russia to end the war with Ukraine because so long as the conflict continues, it is bound to further weaken sanctions-hit Moscow and with this, enhancing the possibility of its dependence on Beijing. This is what worries India, which is facing China on its border.

New Delhi fears that if a war breaks out between India and China, a weak Russia under huge Chinese influence would not be able to meet the South Asian country’s demand for cheap oil and gas nor would Moscow be able to provide spare parts to its military. The Ukraine war has already hampered supplies of spare parts to India’s military, while delaying the shipment of several equipment, including remaining two squadrons of S-400 Triumf air defence system.

China may never want Russia to end the war with Ukraine because so long as the conflict continues, it is bound to further weaken sanctions-hit Moscow, enhancing the possibility of its dependence on Beijing

But overall, judging India-Russia relationship merely in terms of New Delhi’s defence and energy requirements will be over simplistic; it will be equally naïve to consider Moscow as India’s strong hedge against China; or in broader terms, New Delhi’s insurance against Western bullying.

In fact, India’s stronger partnership with Russia helps New Delhi in pursuing its goal of strategic autonomy all the while exploring relationships with the US and its Western allies.

In this background, a firmer thrust will be imparted to India’s relationship with Russia in the wake of the forthcoming prime ministerial visit. It would provide an opportunity to India and Russia to “review the whole range of bilateral issues, including defence, trade linkages, investment ties, energy cooperation, S&T, education, culture, and people-to-people exchanges.” Foreign Secretary Kwatra said.

Clearly, in the fast-shifting geopolitics of the world, both symbolism and substance will be at play during PM Modi’s two-day visit to Russia. How China and the West will react to it, will be keenly observed by the students of international affairs.

–The writer is a senior journalist with wide experience in covering international affairs. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda