President Pranab Mukherjee will land in Moscow on Thursday for a visit that will be replete with symbolism. Mr. Mukherjee is one of an estimated 25 international heads of state and government expected to attend Russia’s victory day parade in the Red Square, commemorating 70 years of the defeat of Hitler’s army.
Mr. Mukherjee’s visit is significant at a time nearly every U.S. ally and European country has decided to boycott the event, a stark contrast from the 50th and 60th commemoration, which was attended by U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.
Led by President Obama, the Western countries have decided to snub Vladimir Putin for what they see as Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, an event that spurred a series of international financial sanctions against Moscow.
Bilateral meet Mr. Mukherjee will also hold a bilateral meeting with Mr. Putin and attend a presidential banquet in honour of the dignitaries who will witness the grand parade on May 9, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Briefing the media ahead of the visit, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, who will accompany the President, called the visit the mark of “a very special and privileged strategic partnership characterised by trust and people to people ties” that exists between India and Russia. The two countries will sign an agreement on cooperation in science and technology and eight MoUs between higher education institutions like the IITs, Institution of Engineering and Delhi University with Russian counterparts. Mr. Mukherjee will be a conferred an honorary doctorate by the Institute of diplomacy in Moscow.
Mr. Mukherjee’s visit is also an affirmation of India’s role in the World Wars as a part of the British imperial army, which was sidelined for decades by Indian governments. However, in recent years, India has begun to acknowledge the role of the 2.5 million Indian soldiers who were part of the war. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the French memorial of Neuve Chapelle, was a step in honouring those who died in World War I, and Mr. Mukherjee, who last attended the Moscow parade in 1995 when he was External Affairs Minister, will honour Indian soldiers who died in World War II, who were decorated by the Soviet government. “Thousands of Indian soldiers died alongside Soviet leaders during the war, and the President is very happy to be a part of this function that is also a walk down memory lane for him,” said the President’s Pres Secretary Venu Rajamony. A 75-member contingent of the nine grenadiers will march along with the Red Army and China’s PLA during the parade which will include about 16,000 soldiers.
Shift in foreign policy Mr. Mukherjee’s visit is also significant given a perceived shift in Indian foreign policy bringing New Delhi closer to Washington after the visits of Mr. Modi to Washington and President Obama to Delhi. At the same time, New Delhi has been worried about overtures by Russia to Pakistan, including offering the Pakistani army military helicopters and proposing joint military exercises. Meanwhile bilateral trade between the two countries has been in decline down from $11 billion to $ 10 billion last year, and Mr. Modi is also expected to address the slowdown in ties with two visits planned in Moscow this year, for the BRICS summit in July and the annual bilateral in November.
World War II
Russian soldiers changed the course of World War II, and also changed the course of history, President Pranab Mukherjee said in an interview ahead of his visit to Moscow to represent India at the 70th year Victory Day parade on May 9th. In the interview to ITAR TASS, that was released shortly before President Mukherjee took off for Moscow he said ,“The role of Russian soldiers and civilians changed the course of the war, its outcome and the future of the world. But this was achieved at the cost of tremendous suffering on the part of the Soviet people and the Russian nation. We recall with deep respect the millions who lost their lives during the War. Tens of thousands of Indian soldiers also sacrificed their lives in the war.”
Ahead of the visit, that comes even as most western countries have boycotted the commemoration in the red square, Russia’s Ambassador to India praised the gesture, saying “Russia also cherishes India’s active role in the last World War and the sympathy of the most illustrious founding fathers and all sons and daughters of this great land showed for the heroic efforts of the former Soviet Union. Both Russia and India stood at the cradle of the United Nations Organization.” Lashing out at countries in Europe and the US for boycotting the commemoration that they had attended during the 50th and 60th years in 1995 and 2005, he said the boycott showed an “amnesia to the sacrifices and sufferings” of the Russian people. “Hitler’s ghost must be haunting them,” Mr. Kadakin added.
>>A sentence in “President heads for Russia today” (May 7, 2015) said: “The two countries will sign … eight MoUs between … the Institute of Engineering and … Russian counterparts.” It should have been the Institution of Engineers (India).