Updated: December 8, 2021 9:37:28 am
If this year’s India-Russia summit was about rediscovering North in the bilateral relationship, the two sides are going the extra mile to make the effort. Visiting President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged and unequivocally reiterated the importance of this old and storied friendship. Last year, the annual summit was not held because of Covid-19. This is only his second trip abroad since March 2020. The first was to Geneva for the summit with President Joe Biden in June. Two new layers of dialogue — between the foreign ministers and the defence ministers — now bolster the strategic partnership. The two countries have signed a contract for the manufacture of about six lakh AK-203 rifles, and a 10-year pact for military technology co-operation. Russia has reportedly shipped the first deliveries of the S-400 long range air defence systems, the agreement for which was signed in 2018, and India is determined not to back off from it despite the possibility of sanctions by the United States. The two sides want to see bilateral trade, stagnating at under $10 billion dollars, hit a target of $30 billion by 2025, and bilateral investment to reach $50 billion. Under the slew of agreements signed during the Russian leader’s visit to “widen the scope” of engagement, there appears to be the unstated understanding on both sides that each needs the other, and that the drift in bilateral ties needs to be arrested.
The reasons for this are not far to see. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the resultant tensions with the US and the West, propelled Moscow in the direction of Beijing. Both countries are closer than they have ever been. But Moscow is only too aware it plays second fiddle to China and that it could undercut its own interests in Asia. At about the same time, Delhi’s tensions with Beijing have seen it embracing the concept of the Quad. As a naval power with a Pacific fleet headquartered in Vladivostok, and plans to develop the Northern Sea Route to connect its oilfields in the west to the Pacific, Russia sees Quad as a disruptive force, and has openly been critical of it. Unresolved tensions with Japan over the Kuril islands make India its only real friend in the Quad.
For these reasons, Moscow has felt the need to recalibrate its relationship with Delhi, and despite the previous divergence over the Taliban, is now on the same page with India over security concerns emanating from Afghanistan. For Delhi, injecting life into an old relationship sends out an important message to both China and Pakistan that it is not as isolated as it has recently seemed amid talk of a Russia-China-Pakistan axis in Eurasia. A 2019 agreement to re-operationalise a defunct sea route between Chennai and Vladivostok, could be a game-changer both for trade and for the strategic relationship.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 8, 2021 under the title ‘Friends in need’.
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