The Russian leader is facing complex regional dynamics, with tensions rising between India and Russia’s traditional ally China.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will arrive in India on Monday for his second overseas trip since the pandemic, to strengthen military and energy ties with a traditional ally court-ordered by the United States.
In its efforts to address an emerging China, Washington has QUAD security dialogue with India, Japan and Australia, raising concerns in Beijing and Moscow.
India was close to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a relationship that continued, with New Delhi calling it a “special and privileged strategic partnership”.
“The friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Putin at a virtual summit in September.
“You have always been a good friend of India.”
This is only the Russian leader’s second trip abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began – he skipped both the G20 and COP26 summit this year – after a June summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva.
“It’s extremely symbolic,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank.
“This is indicative of how they do not want the relationship to stagnate or slow down due to the lack of something on the part of Russia.”
But Putin is facing complex regional dynamics, with tensions rising between India and Russia’s traditional ally China following deadly clashes in a disputed Himalayan region.
“Russia’s influence in the region is very limited,” said Tatiana Belousova of OP Jindal Global University in Haryana, “mostly because of its close ties with China and unwillingness to act in dissonance with Chinese regional interests.”
The Kremlin said last week that talks would be dominated by defense and energy issues, with Russian energy giant Rosneft boss Igor Sechin also traveling as a “number of key energy deals” were on the table.
Russia has long been a key arms supplier to India, seeking to modernize its armed forces, and one of their most high-profile current contracts is for the long-range S-400 ground-to-air missile defense system.
The US has threatened with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which aims to keep Russia in check, and the
The US State Department said last week that no decisions had been made on any waiver for India.
“It is quite remarkable that India has still decided to continue with the S-400 agreement, despite the US disapproval,” Belousova said.
New Delhi has long sought to diversify its military imports, but analysts believe it could take some time before it moves away from Russia.
Military equipment was “crucial” for India given “undiminished” tensions with Pakistan, according to Unnikrishnan. “You’re going to try to nurture everything that is needed to ensure that.”
India is also keen to increase domestic production and has launched a joint venture with Russia to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles.
India and Russia usually hold annual summits, but the leaders’ last personal meeting was on the sidelines of the 2019 BRICS summit in Brazil.
“The leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations and discuss ways to further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries,” India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement last month.
The two countries’ foreign and defense ministers will also hold talks on Monday.