President Putin will pay a short visit on Monday evening and return after attending the annual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Big defence deals, S-400s and Afghanistan also lined up for discussions

Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 6 visit, India and Russia appear to differ on the Indo-Pacific region and its various dimensions.

President Putin will pay a short visit on Monday evening and return after attending the annual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which the bilateral focus is expected to be on the ongoing delivery of the S-400 missile defence systems and big ticket defence agreements.

Russia’s position on India’s Quad initiative with the U.S., Australia and Japan and the idea of “Indo-Pacific” was countered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on November 26 during the Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting where he favoured the “Asia-Pacific” which he described as more “inclusive”. The “Indo-Pacific”, according to him, is an unequal partnership.

Mr. Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu will arrive here on Sunday to participate in the first “2+2” meeting with their counterparts S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh.

Issue-Based Cooperation

Informed sources indicated that India considers both Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific structures are meant for “issue-based cooperation” and that Moscow has been appreciative of India’s demand to maintain “open and inclusive” sea channels which will also benefit the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor that is aimed at connecting Russia’s far east with India.

The coming months will witness increased cooperation to boost industrial activities in the region from where 11 Governors are expected to participate in the Vibrant Gujarat summit in January.

The highlight of Monday’s visit will be the ongoing delivery of the S-400 missile defence systems that have increased the chances of India coming under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act). India has however maintained that its defence procurement policy is guided by “strategic autonomy” which prioritises national security interests.

Both sides are expected to seal several defence deals on Monday which is being described as the “Day of Russia”. An agreement to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles will be a high point of the day.

Both sides are also expected to sign the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS) which will make Russia the seventh country that India has similar agreements with. Another important agreement may be the over 10-year defence cooperation. The Igla-S shoulder-fired missiles may also come up for discussion.

The discussion is expected to focus on Afghanistan and other “hotspots” where tense situation is prevails.

Spill Over of Terrorism

India’s concern about spill over of terrorism from Afghanistan and Pakistan is expected to feature in this section. However, it is not clear if the tension along the Line of Actual Control with China will come up for discussion.

Russia has maintained a cautious position throughout the Sino-India tension starting with the Galwan clashes of June, 2020 and the delivery of S-400 systems is expected to help India establish strategic balance in the region.

President Putin’s visit is taking place in the backdrop of a worsening COVID-19 crisis in Russia which has mobilised its military along the border with Ukraine for a possible armed confrontation. India maintains both political and defence ties with Russia and Ukraine and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the COP-26 summit in Glasgow.

The bilateral exchanges are likely to take up greater hydrocarbon collaboration as both sides have displayed interest in exploring opportunities for investment.

The 21st summit will provide a review of the Gaganyaan mission which will witness the launch of a space capsule carrying Indian astronauts trained by Russia.