Russia announced on Friday that President Vladimir Putin will confer its highest civilian award, the “Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his work on bilateral ties.
“The order was presented to the Prime Minister of India for his distinguished contribution to the development of a privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India and friendly ties between the Russian and Indian peoples,” a statement from Mr. Putin’s office read.
‘Source of strength’
Thanking Mr. Putin for the honour, Mr. Modi said cooperation between India and Russia had led to “to extraordinary outcomes for our citizens.”
“President Putin remains a source of great strength for the India-Russia friendship. Under his visionary leadership, bilateral and multilateral cooperation between our nations has scaled new heights,” he added.
The Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First is awarded to prominent government and public figures, prominent representatives of science, culture, art and various sectors of the economy for “exceptional services that contribute to the prosperity, greatness and glory of Russia,” according to the official website. It was first awarded by former Russian Tsar ‘Peter the Great’ in 1698 and subsequently discontinued. In 1998, former President Boris Yeltsin reinstated the honour by a presidential decree.
Previous recipients include Chinese President Xi Jinping, and presidents of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
According to former diplomats who spoke to The Hindu , the timing of the Russian award is unusual, as it was announced after the general elections began in India on April 11. Last week, while the campaign period was in full swing, the United Arab Emirates announced the Sheikh Zayed award for Mr. Modi as well, which had also raised eyebrows as any statement by a foreign government during the election period is seen as an interference in domestic processes, said the diplomats, who preferred not to be named. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comments earlier this week that India-Pakistan ties would fare better if the incumbent BJP were to win the elections, rather than if the Opposition Congress party did, were also seen in a similar vein. According to established practice, an international award such as this one is only announced once the recipient’s government indicates its acceptance.
When asked about the timing, a Russian embassy official said that the decision to confer the award had been made earlier, but all the “necessary documents and procedures were finalised only now.” A government official here said the MEA does not look at “the timing, but only the credentials of the individual” when awarding foreigners and in the same way it cannot dictate to other governments when the award should be announced.
Welcoming the award from Russia, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said this was the sixth international award for PM Modi in five years, and came in “recognition of India-Russia’s true Druzhba-Dosti [friendship].”