India’s Modi to meet Putin in Moscow as both sides seek to forge deeper ties

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting at Taj Exotic Hotel on October, 15, 2016 in Benaulim, Goa, India.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, marking his first visit to the Kremlin since the invasion of Ukraine.

Their meeting is significant as it’s the Indian premier’s first bilateral trip overseas since he was reelected for a rare third term in June.

The two leaders are set to reinforce the development of “traditionally friendly relations between Russia and India,” as well as discuss “topical issues on the international and regional agendas,” the Kremlin said last week.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for the two sides to review a range of bilateral issues — from defense and trade, to investment ties and energy cooperation, India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said in a media briefing on Friday.

On the agenda

Russia and India will also assess the status of bilateral engagements in groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Group of 20, the BRICS bloc of developing nations, the United Nations, and the East Asia Summit, Kwatra said.

“The issue of early discharge of Indian nationals who have been misled into the service of the Russian army is also expected to figure in the discussions,” Kwatra added.

Since March, India has sought the release of nationals, said to have been “duped” into serving in the Russian army, following the uncovering of what the South Asian nation has labeled as a “major human trafficking network.”

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Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 triggered a slew of sanctions from the Group of 7 nations, as well as other countries, as world leaders sought to cut off or limit Moscow’s ability to fund the war. The Kremlin has insisted on calling the invasion a “special military operation.” 

India has refrained from outright criticism of Putin but has kept a neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while urging both sides to end the war. New Delhi, however, condemned the killing of civilians early in the Ukraine conflict but did not assign blame to Russia. 

Modi’s visit to the Kremlin comes on the heels of his meeting with G7 leaders in Italy last month, where the bloc of industrialized nations — made up of the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom — agreed to fund Ukraine’s war against Russia with profits from frozen Kremlin assets.

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India and Russia’s historical ties

India and Russia have shared a long-standing security cooperation partnership since the Cold War period, with New Delhi’s armed forces heavily reliant on Moscow for military equipment.

Modi’s last visit to Russia was in 2019 when he visited the far eastern port of Vladivostok for an economic forum. The two last met in person in 2022 at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization held in Uzbekistan, where Modi had told the Russian president that it was not an era of war but stopped short of condemning his actions in Ukraine.

Russia, like the U.S., has its own place in India’s foreign policy, said former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal in a recent post on social media platform, X.

“Neither India nor the global south consider Putin an international pariah,” the former ambassador to Russia added. 

India’s bilateral trade with Russia jumped 33% in the financial year ended March 2024, hitting an all-time high of $65.7 billion. However, trade remains imbalanced, Kwatra pointed out.

India’s exports to Russia were $4.26 billion, while imports from the Kremlin amounted near $61.44 billion, official data showed.

Following his two-day visit to Russia, Modi will head to Vienna, Austria on Tuesday in what would be the first visit by an Indian prime minister in 41 years.

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