When Russian President Vladimir Putin visits India for short but important trip to engage with PM Narendra Modi for the annual summit on December 6 this will be standalone bilateral trip since the pandemic except for visit to Geneva this year for summit with his US counterpart Joe Biden (in what was a summit in a third country) he is essentially making a statement that India is not only a priority for him but also fact that Russia is not a junior partner of China as described off late in certain literature.

Putin will be in India at a time when Sino-Indian ties are at a low following PLA’s belligerence at Galwan, LAC in 2020 and China remains intransigent on de-escalation rather upping the ante through incursions. However, notwithstanding the Sino-Russian partnership, Putin has decided to visit India and not China on his maiden bilateral trip since the pandemic. 2021 is the 50th year since New Delhi signed peace, friendship and cooperation treaty with Moscow and it may be recalled that then Soviet Union not only kept USA under check in the Bay of Bengal but also China along its border.

While in common refrain Russia pushed by the West has build bridges with China and appear to work in tandem on geo-political issues, it would be erroneous to view Sino-Russian partnership working against India’s interests. While a cliched black & white approach often clouds narratives, geo-politics is about nuances and dominated by tactical arrangements.

A Sino-Russian military alliance may not be in the offing in the backdrop of Moscow’s strategic partnership with India and Vietnam – both of which have boundary disputes with China. This factor will continue to shape Moscow’s views as evident from the decision by Russia to continue supplying arms to India and fulfilling obligations at the height of the Galwan crisis and supply of first squadron of S-400 is a testimony to decades old defence partnership. New Delhi and Moscow have been steadfast in their support for each other’s territorial sovereignty.

ET has learnt that Putin will be in New Delhi for few hours on December 6, a short stay but important enough to send a geo-political message.

Commentators have often missed the fact that Russia does not want to play the role of junior partner in its relationship with China. Legacy and military strength apart, the size of the Russian territory and its huge natural reserves including unexplored reserves including in the Arctic often guides Moscow’s power projection. Today Russia is making its presence felt in West Asia besides parts of Africa and has plans for ASEAN. It continues to be a preeminent political player in Central Asia and Eurasia.

India’s partnership with the Soviet Union and subsequently with Russia have been a factor of stability in geo-politics for the past seven decades. And when the world is yet again facing multiple challenges with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, threat from radical groups and terrorists and rising tensions between Beijing and Washington, the strategic partnership between New Delhi and Moscow can be a source of stability.

Recently while China sent a junior representative, the Russian President was the only head of state present at the UNSC maritime security meet convened by India. Russia also backed India at the UNSC on not extending 90-day travel waiver for the Taliban leaders despite strong demand from China to grant 180-day waiver. The Indo-Russian permanent High-Level Mechanism on Afghanistan is the only such mechanism that the Russian establishment has created following Taliban takeover of Kabul amid common threat perceptions. The two sides are now closely coordinating to counter common threats in the Afghan theatre as evident from Russian NSAs two visits to India since September.

China’s global ambitions does not go unnoticed in Moscow and it is in this backdrop that Russia has been extremely keen that India increases its footprints in resource-rich Far-East Russia where neighbouring China has made inroads. Far-East Russia presents huge opportunities for India across sectors from infrastructure to harnessing key commodities to hospitality to agriculture to shipbuilding to name a few. Partnership in the Arctic region could help to meet India’s requirements including energy. Far-East Russia and the Russian Arctic would be key pillars of India’s Indo-Pacific partnership with Russia.

The Indo-Russian economic partnership has not matched bilateral cooperation in either the defence, nuclear, space and energy sectors and continues to underperform. The Russian private sector is yet to come off age and the Indian private sector is yet to explore the Russian market and sectors. It would be prudent for the Indian businesses to take cue from European business majors in Germany, Italy and France which have successful business ventures in Russia. Transport corridors like INSTC and revival of the Vladivostok-Chennai shipping link must be fast-tracked. People to people contacts are blossoming and this needs to be encouraged and nurtured. All eyes are now on the December 6 annual summit to elevate partnership to the next level.