Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Balancing in Russia


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The selection of Russia as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first overseas outreach after he won power for a third consecutive term was significant. This was his first visit there after Russia launched its war on Ukraine in 2022, though the PM had visited Russia six times in the last ten years. The visit this time was overshadowed by Putin’s reckless act of bombing a children’s hospital in Kyiv, much against the established norms of warfare, and killing over 41 innocents. Yet, bilateral issues were obviously upper-most in the talks between Modi and Putin except for a passing mention of the incident and expression of sorrow by the PM.
The visit takes place during a period when, in the context of the Ukraine war, the West has imposed sanctions on Russia and is seeking to corner it through tough engagements. China, never a close ally of Russia, sensed this as an opportunity and is helping Putin with supply of critical wares including defence spares and components manufactured in the West but routed through China. The trade between China and Russia has increased substantially. Modi is mindful that the steady strengthening of the China-Russia ties could eventually work to India’s disadvantage. At the same time, Russian crude oil accounts for nearly half of India’s oil imports. Through trading in rupees to overcome sanctions, India is getting cheap oil from Russia. Trade between Russia and India rose steeply to 465 billion after the Ukraine invasion, while European nations have cut down trade with Russia. In recent years, India is steadily reducing its dependence on arms from Russia and doing more purchases from the US, Israel etc., that specialised in sophisticated technology. Russian defence technology is inferior in quality though India depended more on it since the Nehruvian era. Putin might attempt to make India buy weapons from Russia yet again. Modi will obviously have to be careful, as the western powers would react negatively to any excessive indulgence by New Delhi vis-a-vis Moscow.
Putin, weakened in his influence over Russians after the ill-conceived and inopportune war, needs new posturing to keep himself afloat. He is making a bid to rally the Moscow-led “global majority” against US “hegemony” and seeks to get Indian backing to the extent possible. Fact is, Putin had never shown a closeness to any country unlike the rulers of the USSR days. He preferred to be a loner and India’s steady improvement in relations with the US might also have acted as a dampener to Putin. Yet, an alliance of Russia and China against India, should Xi Jin Ping flex his muscles along the northern border, should be to New Delhi’s disadvantage. Viewed against this overall context, Modi could at best do a tight-rope walk in Moscow.



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