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Putin's Visit - India’s Display of Strategic Autonomy

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Bilateral Treaty on Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation between India and Russia

Sunday December 12, 2021 11:07 AM, Syed Ali Mujtaba, ummid.com

Putin's Visit to India

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Bilateral Treaty on Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation between India and Russia. In these five decades, the India-Russia friendship has not only remained consistent and weathered many storms but also has grown stronger over a period of time.

This idea has succulently articulated by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi who while receiving President Putin described the bilateral relationship as a “special and privileged strategic partnership that continues to grow stronger. This view was corroborated by President Putin who called India “as a great power, a friendly nation, and a time-tested friend.”

The assertions by the two leaders underlined the fact that the India-Russia relationship is significant in the interest of both countries. The trust of the two leaders has set into motion the bilateral partnership to become more vigorous.

President Vladimir Putin’s highly consequential visit to India is symbolic in many ways. First, is President Putin undertook the visit in spite of rising Covid-19 cases in his country, the threat of confrontation over the Ukraine border, and other pressing issues around him. The fact that the Russian President preferred to visit India before visiting China is testimony to the strategic importance that he attaches to the India-Russia relationship.

The other fact that needs to be highlighted here is that President Putin believes that India is too important a country to let slip away into the extended US embrace and by his visit to India he wants to rein in such trend that’s manifested by India joining the Pacific Quad.


The other symbolism in Putin’s visit is that it has happened at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are facing each other on the LAC at Ladakh. The visit certainly sends the message to the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping that some red lines need to be established between India and China. This is a significant point because, despite Russia’s growing relations with China, Moscow in 2020 went ahead to supply the spare parts the Indian army needed in Ladakh while engaging the Chinese troopers.

Overall, India- Russia summit concluded with the signing of 28 agreements to strengthen their friendship. The two sides agreed to give a strong impetus to ties in the traditional areas of collaboration including defense, nuclear energy, fossil fuels, counter-terrorism, drug trafficking, space, health care, etc. Some of the new areas identified for cooperation include Education, cyber security, agriculture, railways, pharmaceuticals, and clean energy, etc. Some of the other areas of focus were Central Asia, the Far East Region of Russia, and the Arctic.

There were also talks on a free trade agreement between India and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. If that happens, it will give businesses the impetus to move their goods easily between the two regions.

Apart from the defense deal which was the centerpiece of Putin’s visit, considerable attention was paid to trade and investment between the two countries. In his remarks, President Putin had said that trade has grown by 38 percent in the first nine months of this year. Thirteen key sectors were marked out for special attention following the “positive trajectory in trade figures this year.” The two countries have fixed a target of bilateral trade of $30 billion and investment of $50 billion by 2025.

The proposed Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor was another high point of Putin’s visit to India and that will certainly expand the economy of the two countries.

Putin’s visit allayed many fears raised by a section of critics over the India- Russia bilateral relationship. Since every country acts to protect its national interest, Russia has developed a strong relationship with China, so is India with the US. However, this will not be the sticking point in the bilateral relationship that has come out well from Putin’s visit.

Also Read | India inks 4 deals with Russia, including purchase of over 6L AK-203 rifles

The fact is India and Russia is a partner in several multinational forums like BRICS (Brazil, China, and South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Pakistan, and Central Asian countries), and the RIC (Russia, India, and China). These forums give an opportunity to Moscow and Delhi to work together closely on both bilateral and global issues. And given the fact that China is a member of all these forums, Moscow can use its influence to ensure both Beijing and Delhi continues to engage with each other to maintain peace at their disputed border.

The high point of the Russian President’s visit is the launch of the 2+2 Dialogue that has imbued new energy and dynamism into the bilateral partnership. Afghanistan was the major subject of bilateral deliberations between Modi and Putin during the 2+2 deliberations. Both India and Russia are in near-complete convergence in their viewpoint on the way forward in Afghanistan.

President Putin had said:

“Naturally, we're concerned about everything that has to do with terrorism. Fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organized crime. With that regard, we are concerned about the developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

Overall Russian presidents’ visit to Delhi was an interesting moment. It happened at a time when the world’s geopolitical situation is in a state of flux. India and Russia both recognize their values for each other. They do not want to loosen their special relationship. The message that comes out clearly from President Putin’s visit is that India- Russia relationship is broad-based and not one-dimensional. The two nations are committed to tiding over all the obstacles that may come in their way.

The vibrant India-Russia strategic partnership has sent out a clear message that the world is evolving into a multi-polar structure. Putin’s visit was a strong reminder that the world is entering an era of greater pluri-lateralism. This is an era that recognizes the shortcomings of multilateralism, the limits of bilateralism, and the un-tenability of unilateralism.

President Putin’s visit was a concerted effort to tell the world that India – Russian strategic relationship is alive and kicking. There were convergence on several issues and the divergence was something that can be sorted out. Overall the high-profile visit of the Russian President to India was a display of India’s strategic autonomy.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com.]

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