Putin meets Indian prime minister in Russia on his first visit since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Moscow on Monday for a two-day visit, his first since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, complicating the relationship between the longtime partners and pushing Russia closer to India’s rival, China.

Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence outside Moscow, to be followed by talks at the Kremlin on Tuesday. Modi last traveled to Russia in 2019, when he attended a forum in the far eastern port of Vladivostok and met with Putin. The leaders also saw each other in September 2022 in Uzbekistan, at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization bloc.

Modi posted photos of his arrival in Moscow on the social media platform X, in both Russian and English, saying he was “looking forward to further deepening the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between our nations."

“Stronger ties between our nations will greatly benefit our people,” he wrote, also sharing a picture of himself and Putin hugging.

Later, the two leaders were pictured in videos shared by the Kremlin at Putin's residence, Novo-Ogaryovo, near Moscow.

Putin drove Modi around the grounds in a buggy and showed him his stable with horses. According to state news agencies, the two had earlier watched a horse show with performers in national Russian dress.

Modi thanked Putin on X for hosting him at Novo-Ogaryovo and said he was looking forward to Tuesday's talks which he hoped will “go a long way in further cementing the bonds of friendship between India and Russia.”

Russia has had strong ties with India since the Cold War, and New Delhi’s importance as a key trading partner has grown since the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. China and India have become key buyers of Russian oil following sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies that shut most Western markets off to Russian exports. India now gets more than 40% of its oil imports from Russia, according to analysts.

Under Modi’s leadership, India has avoided condemning Russia’s military action in Ukraine while emphasizing the need for a peaceful settlement.

The partnership between Moscow and New Delhi has become fraught, however, as Russia has moved closer to China. Modi notably stayed away from last week’s summit in Kazakhstan of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security grouping founded by Moscow and Beijing.

Chietigj Bajpaee, senior South Asia research fellow at the U.K.-based Chatham House, said India is increasingly estranged from forums in which Russia and China play a prominent role.

“This is evident in India’s relatively low-key presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year, and now the decision by Modi not to attend this year’s summit,” Bajpaee said.

A confrontation in June 2020 along the disputed China-India border dramatically altered their already touchy relationship as rival troops fought with rocks, clubs and fists. At least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers were killed. Tensions have persisted despite talks — and have seeped into how New Delhi looks at Moscow.

“Russia’s relations with China have been a matter of some concern for India in the context of Chinese increased assertiveness in the region,” D. Bala Venkatesh Verma, a former Indian ambassador to Russia, told The Associated Press.

But Modi is expected to seek to continue close relations with Russia, which is also a major defense supplier for India.

With Moscow’s arms industries mostly serving the Russian military in Ukraine, India has been diversifying its defense procurements, buying more from the U.S., Israel, France and Italy.

“Defense cooperation will clearly be a priority area,” Bajpaee said, adding that 60% of India’s military equipment and systems is “still of Russian origin.”

“We’ve seen some delay in the deliveries of spare parts ... following the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “I believe both countries are due to conclude a military logistics agreement, which would pave the way for more defense exchanges.”

Following an arrest warrant issued in 2023 by the International Criminal Court for his actions in Ukraine, Putin’s foreign travel has been sparse in recent years, so Modi’s trip could help the Russian leader boost his clout.

“We kind of see Putin going on a nostalgia trip — you know, he was in Vietnam, he was in North Korea,” said Theresa Fallon, an analyst at the Center for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies. “In my view, he’s trying to demonstrate that he’s not a vassal to China, that he has options, that Russia is still a great power.”

Alexander Gabuev, head of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said that Putin’s interactions on the world stage show he “is far from isolated” and that Russia is not a country to be discounted.

Trade development also will figure strongly in the talks, particularly intentions to develop a maritime corridor between India’s major port of Chennai and Vladivostok, the gateway to Russia’s Far East.

India-Russia trade has seen a sharp increase, touching close to $65 billion in the 2023-24 financial year, due to strong energy cooperation, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told reporters Friday.

Imports from Russia touched $60 billion and exports from India $4 billion in the 2023-24 financial year, Kwatra said. India’s financial year runs from April to March.

He said India was trying to correct the trade imbalance with Russia by increasing its exports. India’s top exports to Russia include drugs and pharmaceutical products, telecom instruments, iron and steel, marine products and machinery.

Its top imports from Russia include crude oil and petroleum products, coal and coke, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, fertilizer, vegetable oil, gold and silver.

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Pathi reported from New Delhi and Heintz from Tallinn, Estonia. Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

07/08/2024 20:19 -0400

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