Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow on Monday reaffirms an old tradition of holding annual summits between India and Russia leaders. With Russia his first choice for a bilateral visit in his third tenure, he also breaks a tradition that Indian Prime Ministers travel to neighbouring countries on their first stand-alone visits in a tenure, indicating the importance of the India-Russia partnership. The 22nd India-Russia Annual Summit has another first — the first Modi-Putin meet since the Ukraine war. 

The 21st summit was in Delhi in December 2021, just before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched “special operations” on Ukraine. Since then, the two leaders have met just once, at the SCO summit in Uzbekistan, where Mr. Modi had stated that this was not the “era of war”. Russia’s growing dependence on China as a result of the war is also a concern for India, given tensions over the LAC. 

While there will be a scheduled framework of talks on bilateral issues (trade and energy relationships, space cooperation for Gaganyaan, and declining but substantial defence supplies), there will also be an opportunity to take stock of the war in Ukraine. Apart from its impact and western sanctions on global security, and shortages of food, fuel and fertilizers, India has been worried about its fallout on defence deliveries and spares from Russia.

While an attempt to “Make in India” has made headway (Russian assault rifles and the India-Russia BrahMos missile), concerns over the reliability of supplies and the payments issue will need discussion. New Delhi’s concern over Indian recruitments by the Russian army is another issue, officials indicate.

Above all, Mr. Modi’s visit sends a geopolitical message given the contrast to another summit in Washington. On Tuesday, U.S. President Joseph Biden will welcome leaders of NATO countries for the transatlantic grouping’s 75th anniversary.

With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Indo-Pacific leaders who are part of the western sanctions present, it will be a show of strength supposed to demonstrate Russia’s “isolation”. Mr. Modi has attempted a balance with his presence at the G7 summit outreach in Italy last month and meeting Mr. Zelenskyy, and later sending an official delegation to the Peace Conference in Switzerland.

The government has also shown its enduring commitment to traditional ties with Russia that stem from the 1971 Soviet Union Peace and Friendship treaty, by refusing to condemn the war at the UN and other multilateral forums, while continuing to engage with Russia bilaterally and at groupings such as the SCO, BRICS and the G20. All eyes during Mr. Modi’s visit will then be on how he uses India’s particular multi-polar, unaligned perch to further the cause of “dialogue and diplomacy” and help hasten an end to the conflict that has divided the world.

(With Agency Inputs)