Old and strong: On India-Russia ties  

India and Russia seem keen on renewing ties in a changed world 

December 29, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 12:10 am IST

The importance of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Russia this week can be gleaned from the special effort New Delhi and Moscow have made to make the meetings successful and productive. For India, at the end of a year of prolific diplomacy, a five-day visit would seem unusually long, particularly as the Kremlin leadership normally does not see high-level foreign visits at all in this period right before its holiday season. It is equally unusual for Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet lower-ranking foreign officials, as he did while meeting Mr. Jaishankar. The warmth was significant given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has skipped the annual leadership summit, an unbroken tradition from 2000-21, for two years now, leading to speculation about the health of the India-Russia relationship after the Ukraine war. While India took care not to criticise Russia, worries over the flagging of defence supplies, continued issues over paying Russia for imports in third currencies, and the general decline in other bilateral engagements have persisted. It is clear that a large part of Mr. Jaishankar’s mission was to smooth over the perception of differences. The resultant agreements, pertaining to furthering collaboration in future Kudankulam nuclear power projects, fostering connectivity, trade and resuming talks for the Eurasian Economic Union-India free trade agreement, and joint military production indicate that bilateral relations are on track. So is multilateral cooperation, especially as Russia plans to host the expanded BRICS summit next year, and India and Russia continue to coordinate positions at the UN and SCO. Mr. Jaishankar’s announcement that imports of Russian hydrocarbons will continue to rise despite the West’s Russian sanctions, indicated the strength of ties that continue “regardless of political fluctuations”.

Mr. Jaishankar’s affirmation that the annual leadership summit will be resumed in 2024, appeared to signify that both sides are working to eliminate any static in the relationship. His statement that the India-Russia relationship was the ‘only constant in world politics’ over the last six decades would not have gone unnoticed especially in Washington and Beijing, given some of the friction in India-U.S. relations over the Pannun investigation, as well as U.S. President Joseph Biden’s decision not to accept Mr. Modi’s invitation for Republic Day, while India-China relations have ended another year in impasse over the military standoff. It remains to be seen whether the bonhomie will yield concrete movement on the rupee-rouble payment mechanism, or on expediting the delayed delivery of S-400 air system units. However, the larger import of his visit, and his words that the “geopolitical and strategic convergence” between India and Russia in a multipolar world that is “rebalancing”, will be watched most closely by votaries and critics of the relationship.

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