Presidential visits aren’t normally political in nature. But India will send a strong message during President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Moscow this week (May 7-11) to attend Russia’s Victory Day parade, officials said.
The parade, which is held on May 9 every year to commemorate the end of the Second World War, will mark its 70th anniversary this year and is expected to be particularly grand. It will, however, be boycotted by almost the entire Western world that has imposed strict financial sanctions on Russia in protest against its actions in Ukraine.
Mr. Mukherjee will be one of the 25 heads of state in a BRICS grouping that includes Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma and Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, who are expected to attend the parade.
During his visit, Mr. Mukherjee is likely to meet President Vladimir Putin, make a public address at a Russian think-tank and attend a cultural exchange programme called “Namaste India”. He will be accompanied by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and a team from the Ministry of External Affairs. “The President’s visit is a well-thought-out decision, expressing solidarity with the country and Mr. Putin for all they have done for us and continue to do,” an official told The Hindu .
The Indian Army is also sending a 70-member contingent of the Nine Grenadiers to march along with the Red Army and a contingent of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army at Moscow’s Red Square.
“This is a message to our friends in the U.S. and EU that India will maintain its key relationship with Russia, even as it discusses new relationships and strategic convergence with them,” former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Russia Kanwal Sibal told The Hindu , adding that Mr. Mukherjee’s presence at the parade will affirm India’s “strategic autonomy”.
Officials said earlier discussions on whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi would go to Moscow were shelved given his travel plans to China, South Korea and Mongolia next week. Mr. Modi is already scheduled to visit Russia twice this year — for the BRICS and SCO summit in July and the annual bilateral summit in November.