Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 215

In another possible sign of his declining engagement in Russian diplomatic affairs, Russian President Boris Yeltsin may have asked Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to stand in for him at an Indian-Russian summit scheduled for next month in New Delhi. At least, that seems to be the case. Yesterday’s announcement by Kremlin press spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin failed to specify whether Yeltsin had canceled his own trip to India altogether. It also failed to provide the dates on which Primakov would travel to New Delhi (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, November 18). But, given Yeltsin’s worsening health problems and his feeble performances at a series of recent meetings with foreign leaders, most observers interpreted yesterday’s Kremlin announcement as an indication that Yeltsin would indeed forego the visit to India. In response to this widespread interpretation, the Kremlin today insisted that Yeltsin will in fact go to New Delhi (Western agencies, November 19). Nevertheless, uncertainty persists.

The Kremlin’s decision is one of some consequence. Moscow has been careful to rebuild its friendly relations with India in the post-Soviet era, and now sees its ties with New Delhi–alongside those with Beijing–as one of the linchpins of its foreign policy in Asia. Yeltsin, moreover, has already postponed one visit to India this year. That Kremlin decision, which was reportedly received with some displeasure in New Delhi, was also the consequence of Yeltsin’s health problems.

The summit meeting planned for next month is in fact a rescheduling of talks that were originally to have taken place this past January. The two sides intend during the upcoming summit to declare their intentions to enter the next century as close partners whose bilateral relations are an important factor in international affairs (Itar-Tass, November 17). They are also to sign an important agreement which will extend an already ambitious program of military-technical cooperation between Russia and India for another ten years–to the year 2010.

Indeed, negotiations over the military agreement have been proceeding with some intensity in recent weeks, presumably to ensure that the related documents are ready for signing during the December summit. On November 13 military delegations from the two countries wound up a session of consultations–carried out under the auspices of a Russian-Indian commission for military-technical cooperation–at which the text of the cooperation agreement was finalized (Kommersant daily, Itar-Tass, November 13). Only a few days later, however, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced that he was postponing a visit to India scheduled for November 25. Like Yeltsin this week, Sergeev was reportedly also vague both about the reasons for his decision, and about the date on which the visit would be rescheduled to take place. Authorities in New Delhi were reportedly disappointed by the decision, because they had hoped that the top-level military talks might precede the December summit (Itar-Tass, November 17).