Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 130

Russia and India have engaged in a virtual love-fest over the past two weeks, as officials from the two countries used a series of high-level meetings in Moscow to boost bilateral relations and to build diplomatic momentum for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s scheduled visit to New Delhi this fall. These latest diplomatic maneuverings led some observers to suggest that Russia and India are looking to resuscitate the sort of close ties which bound New Delhi to the Soviet Union until the late 1980s and, indeed, the two sides did appear to accomplish much during their recent talks. For all of that, however, it is worth keeping in mind that contemporary India is a rising economic and regional power in its own right, and that New Delhi is balancing friendly relations with Russia by also pursuing improved ties with both the United States and the European Union.

The latest round of Russian-Indian talks got underway on June 21 when Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh arrived in Moscow for four days of consultations with Russian leaders. During his stay Singh met not only with Putin and with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, but also with Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko (who co-chairs an Indian-Russian trade commission) and with Sergei Ivanov, the influential head of the Russian Security Council. Both sides underscored their determination to further boost bilateral relations, and the implication throughout Singh’s visit was that New Delhi sees the election of Putin as an excellent opportunity to do just that.

In more substantive terms, the highlight of Singh’s visit appeared to be Putin’s announcement on June 23 that he intends to travel to India in October and that he is tasking his aides with making certain that the trip comes off properly. Putin suggested October 2-4 as a tentative date for the long-awaited–and now long-overdue–Russian-Indian summit meeting. His trip to New Delhi is important because Putin’s predecessor, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, failed on several occasions to meet a commitment to travel to India. That has left relations between the two countries in a sort of limbo, despite continuing large-scale Russian arms sales to India and talk of a partnership between the two countries. Indeed, Putin and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee are scheduled to sign a number of agreements during the October meeting, including a “Declaration on Strategic Partnership” to formalize the close relations between the two countries.

There were several other substantive highlights of Singh’s visit beyond the preparations for the October summit. One was a Russian declaration of support for India’s efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Another was Singh’s restatement of Indian support for Russia’s war in the Caucasus. Indeed, New Delhi’s position on this issue was an extension of another important issue discussed during the Indian diplomat’s stay in Moscow: that of a largely common Russian-Indian position regarding developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what Moscow and New Delhi describe more generally as the battle against “international terrorism.” One Indian newspaper pointed to the presence on Singh’s delegation of Vivek Katju–a joint secretary in the External Affairs Ministry with responsibility for policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan–as evidence that problems related to these two countries would figure high on Singh’s agenda.

Finally, Singh and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also made clear their common unhappiness over U.S. challenges to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Washington’s plans for the development of a limited national missile defense system. Singh said that, though U.S. missile defense plans would not influence India’s own nuclear or missile programs, New Delhi was opposed to any militarization of space by the United States. Ivanov was quoted as saying that both India and Russia want to see strategic stability maintained the ABM accord as its centerpiece. In addition, Ivanov appeared to invite India to take part in a projected joint Russian-U.S. ballistic missile early warning center (Times of India, June 23-24; BBC, AFP, Russian agencies, June 23; Reuters, June 25).

That New Delhi’s broader world view coincides in many regards with Russia’s was also evidenced during an Indian-EU summit which took place last week in Lisbon. The Indian prime minister reportedly used that occasion to underscore–in formulations very similar to those typically heard in Moscow–New Delhi’s support for a “multipolar” world order. Russian diplomats have long used that term in arguing for an international order in which U.S. power is blunted and influence devolves instead to major regional powers (The Hindu, June 29).