Modi’s Russia visit rankles NATO members


Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow (Facebook Photo)

Venu Menon
Wellington, July 12,2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia has left Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) member countries in consternation.

It coincided with the just-concluded Nato summit in Washington, where the ongoing Ukraine war triggered by Russian President  Vladimir Putin was the overarching theme.

The optics and the timing of Modi’s Moscow visit troubled the West. The image of Putin and Modi hugging drew sharp comment from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. But what galled Western leaders at the Washington summit was that the Indian premier landed in Moscow just hours after a children’s hospital was bombed by Russia in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Ostensibly, Modi arrived in Moscow on July 8 to attend the 22nd India-Russia Annual Summit, a pre-arranged event. While in Moscow, he sought to address sensitivities around the bombing of the children’s hospital, and the continuing crisis in Ukraine, and also offered to broker peace in Ukraine.

New Delhi’s show of proximity to Moscow came when Nato, marking its 75th anniversary, was seeking to build solidarity among its member states in support of Ukraine and to bankroll Ukraine’s war effort.

Putin is bearing the brunt of efforts to consolidate European sentiment against the Russian military push in Ukraine, and to isolate him by imposing sanctions.

Putin has pushed back by opening channels of communication with individual European leaders, such as Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Putin is also closing ranks with China against the West.

Modi’s recent presence in Moscow is seen as a bid by New Delhi to reassert its historical ties with Russia at a time when Moscow and Beijing are moving closer.

In the backdrop of the deadly border clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in 2020, revitalized ties between New Delhi and Moscow act as a counterweight to China amid fears of its growing belligerence.

Historically, India and Russia have been close, with Moscow being a key source of defence procurement. Though in recent years India has received arms from the United States, France and Israel, Russia remains its key weapons supplier.

They are also trading partners. Bilateral trade between India and Russia touched $65 billion in 2023-24.

But New Delhi’s diplomatic overture to Moscow can arguably be attributed to the West’s policies aimed at isolating Russia that are propelling it towards China.

This is Modi’s first overseas outing since his re-election to office for a third term in June, signalling that India is seeking to increase its leverage over the US and other Western countries.

It also indicates India’s foreign policy strategy of balancing its ties with the West and Russia, while pursuing its national interest in a shifting global political landscape.

It is worth noting that during talks held at the Kremlin, Modi reiterated his commitment to help end the conflict in Ukraine. Putin, in turn, welcomed the Indian premier’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis.

That exchange cements India’s credentials as a mediator in the Ukraine crisis and echoes US State Department spokesman Mathew Miller who urged Modi to stress Ukraine’s territorial integrity during his talks in Moscow.

New Delhi’s potential role as a peace broker in Ukraine takes the sting out of  the Indian premier’s contentious visit to Moscow as Nato members huddled in Washington to discuss Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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