Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Russian President Putin for informal talks on 21st May. The two leaders reportedly discussed security trends in the Asia-Pacific Region, multilateral platforms of cooperation, and improving economic ties between Russia and India.
Russia is considered an important ally for India. The two countries have shared strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relations for years. The Indo-Russian intergovernmental commission is one of the largest comprehensive governmental mechanisms that India has had with any country internationally. Russia had pushed for India's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and has supported India's demand for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Moscow also supports India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
A recent report on global arms trade that analysed the past five years noted that Russia still remains India’s top supplier of weapons. In 2016, India and Russia signed billions of dollars of defense and energy deals, and in 2017, trade grew by 22%. However, in the past decade, India has made moves to reduce dependence on Moscow. According to SIPRI, Russia’s share of military hardware stands at 62% in the last five years compared to the 79% from 2008 - 2012. A major low was reached in April, when India exited the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project.
Additionally, US sanctions on Russia such as the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), pose a threat to India. New Delhi recently finalized a deal with Moscow worth $6 billion, for five S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. US sanctions on Rosoboronexport, the state owned weapons trading company, has raised apprehensions about Russian defence imports, currently valued at approximately $12 billion. Indian officials have reportedly lobbied Washington to address potential concerns.
US official Tina Kaidanow recently warned New Delhi "to evaluate any potential large defense purchase from Russia seriously," adding that it must not "enable" Russia's "malign behaviour." "We are not going to allow our defense requirement to be dictated by any other country. We have conveyed this to Capitol Hill. Russia has been a reliable and trusted partner," an official source told Indian media ahead of the talks.
Prime Minister Modi said that the strategic partnership between India and Russia has been elevated into a “special privileged strategic partnership”. The PM noted that the two leaders had discussed the International North South Transport Corridor, a 7,200-km-long transport network between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
Meanwhile, President Putin said, "Our Defense Ministries maintain very close contacts and cooperation. It speaks about a very high strategic level of our partnership.” He also acknowledged cooperation on multilateral platforms including the UN, BRICS (an association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation).
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that economic cooperation was a key focus. "They discussed the entire spectrum of our privileged strategic partnership. Special attention was focused on economic cooperation. They noted stable growth in bilateral trade," he said, pointing out that trade between the two nations had grown 20% in 2017. The two leaders reportedly made plans for further economic talks at the formal Russia-India summit in October this year. "In this context, they hailed the successful work of a joint group of priority projects and the activities of relevant government structures working out a new mechanism, as well as a strategy of actions on trade-and-economic and investment cooperation," Lavrov said.
The two heads of state discussed the energy sector specifically. According to Lavrov, there are “serious plans for further cooperation” between Indian and Russian oil corporations. Lavrov cited Russian oil companies such as Rosneft and Gazprom, who have already made significant investments in the Indian market.
In terms of security, Lavrov told TASS that Putin and Modi stressed on a “non-bloc architecture of security in the Asia-Pacific Region”, possibly referring to India’s involvement in the “Quad”, an informal strategic dialogue between US, Japan, Australia and India, which Russia has opposed in the past. "A great deal was said about the trends we observe in the Asia-Pacific Region," he said. "Both President Putin and Prime Minister Modi were adamant that a new architecture of security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region should be based on non-bloc principles, openness, and equitable and indivisible security. The trends that can be observed on the Eurasian continent were mentioned precisely in this fashion."
Our assessment is that this summit was an opportunity for Putin and Modi to reiterate their commitment to continuing a special strategic relationship. As we had predicted earlier, the two leaders discussed energy development, and furthering cooperation on issues such as oil. We believe that Modi may have soothed concerns surrounding India’s rapprochement with the US, and New Delhi’s involvement in the “Quad”. From this meeting, it appears that India will continue its current relationship with Moscow, despite deteriorating ties between Russia and the West.