Narendra Modi visits Moscow for first time since Ukraine war began

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on June 7, 2024. ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Russia will certainly be closely followed. Concerned about the rapprochement between the Kremlin and China, Narendra Modi is due to travel to Moscow on July 8 and 9 for a bilateral visit, a first since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022.

Both an ally of Russia and a partner of the West, New Delhi has always refrained from condemning the Russian invasion, while calling for a resolution of the conflict and a return to peace. A clever balancing act that is part of India’s “multi-alignment” policy. Theorized by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, it aims to establish multiple commitments to best preserve Indian interests and take advantage of contractions in the geopolitical context.

“Need to reassure Russia”

The exercise is perilous. “India does not support the war in Ukraine and, without condemning it, has not hidden its dissatisfaction with the Kremlin’s position”noted Alexei Zakharov, independent expert, former researcher at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. The leaders of Russia and India used to meet at annual summits, but since 2021, the one-on-one meeting between Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin has been postponed twice. The last meeting between the two strongmen was in 2022, when, at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, Narendra Modi pointed out to his counterpart that ” time [n’était] not to war”Isolated on the international scene, Russia has turned towards India’s great rival, China, with which it has continued to strengthen its ties. A rapprochement that New Delhi views with a jaundiced eye.

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This trip will therefore be an opportunity for India to signal the importance it attaches to the Russian partnership. Narendra Modi has thus chosen Moscow for the first bilateral visit of his third term, an honour usually reserved for a neighbouring country, such as Sri Lanka or the Maldives. “India has deepened its partnership with the West over the past decade. Now it needs to reassure Russia”says Harsh Pant, director of the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank close to the Indian foreign ministry. “The rapprochement between Russia and China is very bad news for India on the security front, and could be detrimental to it”the expert continues. Relations between India and China have been frosty since a deadly 2020 clash between the two armies in the Galwan Valley in the Himalayas along the disputed border. China has been steadily nibbling away at chunks of Indian territory; thousands of troops are permanently stationed along the Line of Control, the de facto border between the two Asian rivals.

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