Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 218

While Russian President Boris Yeltsin did manage to meet yesterday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, another much anticipated summit meeting involving Yeltsin and a major Asian leader remains in limbo. Yeltsin was to have traveled to India in early December, where he was expected to sign two key documents. One was to have been a joint Russian-Indian declaration setting out the intention of the two countries to enter the next century as partners. The other was a major agreement extending by another ten years–to the year 2010–an already ambitious program of military-technical cooperation between Russia and India. Amid worsening health problems, however, Yeltsin was reported on November 18 to have canceled the visit to India. It was also reported that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov might stand in for Yeltsin (see the Monitor, November 19).

The Kremlin later issued a clarification of sorts, however, indicating that Yeltsin had merely postponed the visit to India and that the Primakov visit was an event separate from that planned for the Russian president. Reports now say that Primakov will travel to India in late December, but the exact dates have apparently not been established (Russian agencies, November 20). It is unclear when the ailing Russian president will finally visit New Delhi. It is also unclear whether the signing of the documents mentioned above will have to wait until Yeltsin actually does make the trip.

The last postponement of the Yeltsin visit to India, together with the Kremlin’s continuing ambiguity over how the two sides are now to proceed, suggests the ways in which Yeltsin’s deteriorating health has disrupted Russia’s foreign dealings. The military-technical cooperation agreement with India is particularly important to Moscow. India is–along with China–one of Moscow’s two largest customers of military hardware. Yet there have also been reports of problems in Russia’s arms dealings with India. Both sides had hoped the signing of the military-technical agreement would mark the beginning of clear sailing in that area. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev also postponed a visit to India recently, however. Such manifestations of instability in the Russian leadership are unlikely to inspire confidence in one of Moscow’s major trading and diplomatic partners.