As the U.S. antiterror war began to move into its next phase, Russia also sought over the past fortnight to solidify friendly relations with India, arguably its key Asian partner. A successive pair of visits to New Delhi by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov–the first beginning on February 3 and the second on February 6–yielded several important results. Ivanov’s visit was highlighted by a Russian decision to “tilt” decisively and publicly toward India in New Delhi’s standoff with Pakistan over responsibility for continuing terrorist violence in Kashmir and other parts of India. One Asian news source described the Russian endorsement of New Delhi as a “warm bear hug” for India; Russian policy in this area was contrasted with the position of most other governments (including, indirectly, that of the United States), which have chosen instead to walk a careful diplomatic line between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Klebanov’s visit to New Delhi was centered on military-technical cooperation between Russia and India, a major issue given the enormity of India’s purchases of Russian military hardware over the past decade. The results in this case were more ambiguous, as the two sides failed to finalize arms agreements said to be worth approximately US$3 billion. The talks in New Delhi seemed nevertheless to mark the beginning–albeit a potential one–of an important new phase in Russian-Indian defense ties, one in which the two countries would abandon their former “seller-buyer” relationship in favor of an equal partnership devoted to all phases of arms development, production and sales. Much remains to be done to actualize this new relationship, but at a time when India is enjoying improved ties with Washington and is emerging as a key player in South Asia, these latest Russian-Indian talks appear to signal the start of a decisive Russian effort to cement its partnership with New Delhi and buttress its own position in the region.