In connection with his decision to take a two-week vacation, Russian president Boris Yeltsin yesterday decided to postpone a visit to India that had been scheduled for later this month. The decision, announced by Kremlin officials, seems sure to raise some questions in New Delhi. Only a day earlier, Indian diplomats reported that preparations for the visit were going forward as planned, and that the itinerary for the Russian president’s stay in India — which was to have included the signing of a package of Indian-Russian agreements — had been nearly completed. (Itar-Tass, January 5) Reports yesterday, moreover, indicated that the postponement announcement had caught Foreign Ministry officials in Russia and India alike by surprise.
The Kremlin press service tried to downplay the seeming confusion, releasing a statement that the visit had been postponed by mutual consent and also suggesting that the January scheduling of Yeltsin’s visit had never been more than preliminary. As it is, the postponement may be a lengthy one. Kremlin officials said that the visit is now likely to occur in the second half of 1998, and indicated unofficially that September is a possible date. An additional element of confusion was added when unnamed Russian diplomats, also speaking unofficially, attributed the postponement to political developments in India. (AP, UPI, Russian agencies, January 6) That statement, which refers to the start of a parliamentary election campaign in India, contradicts several statements by Russian and Indian officials over the past several weeks declaring that Russian-Indian relations are impervious to short-term political developments in India. (Itar-Tass, December 19, January 5) One of those making that assertion was Russian first deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais, who led a Russian delegation to India for trade talks in mid-December. A second purpose for his presence was to further preparations for Yeltsin’s visit. (See Monitor, December 23)
Improved relations with India, a former Soviet client state, have been among the cornerstones of Russian diplomacy in Asia, and Yeltsin’s visit was to have been a high profile one. The two sides hoped, among other things, to begin giving more substance to their improved political relations by moving to boost still modest levels of bilateral trade. Military-technical cooperation between the two countries has been more robust, as Moscow has once again emerged as the main supplier of the Indian armed forces. Even in this area, however, Indian officials reportedly expressed some reservations about the reliability of Russia’s arms providers during the visit by Chubais. According to one Russian account, a lack of direction atop Russia’s arms export establishment is alienating clients in India and elsewhere. (Finansovye izvestia, December 30)
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