Indian Envoy Hails Ties With Russia, Despite Western Pressure


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President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday met with the Indian foreign minister at the Kremlin, highlighting Russia’s attempts to break through its isolation from the West by pivoting to an increasingly powerful Asian nation.

From the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine, India has taken a neutral stance, citing its longtime ties with Moscow and insisting on its right to navigate a multipolar world its own way.

Russia has long been the most important military supplier for India, and as international sanctions in response to the war began constricting Russian oil sales, India rapidly expanded its purchases to become one of the chief buyers of discounted Russian petroleum. In doing so, India has frustrated American efforts to isolate Russia since the Ukraine war began in 2022, providing a much-needed financial boost to Moscow’s coffers.

“Everything is in your hands,” Mr. Putin said, “and I can say that we are successful because of your direct support.”

Mr. Putin added that he intended to discuss the situation with the war in Ukraine and invited India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to visit Russia.

The Indian foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said that he had brought a written letter to Mr. Putin from Mr. Modi in which the Indian leader conveyed his thoughts on the state of Russia-India relations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Jaishankar conducted a separate meeting with his Russian counterpart. He said that his discussions would include “the state of multilateralism and the building of a multipolar world order.”

“We will focus on bilateral cooperation in different spheres, adjusting it to changing circumstances and demands,” Mr. Jaishankar said, according to a Russian video broadcast. “We will discuss the international strategic situation, conflicts and tensions where they are.”

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Wednesday that his country’s relationship with India goes beyond bilateral ties. The two nations are interested in “building an international political and economic system that would be open and fair for everyone,” he said in televised remarks ahead of the meeting.

Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to make supporting Russia costly, American officials have avoided open criticism of India. Instead, President Biden and others have courted Mr. Modi, even welcoming him to a state dinner over the summer. That courtship has continued even after American law enforcement officials accused Indian officials in November of plotting the assassination of an American Sikh activist in the United States.

While President Biden generally has emphasized common ground with India, the Indian government’s crackdown on human rights is a clear point of friction in the relationship. Protesters demonstrated against Mr. Modi’s efforts to stifle dissent during the state dinner.

Their relationship is driven by Mr. Modi’s desire to assert his country as an economic superpower and Mr. Biden’s need for a powerful ally to serve as a counterbalance to Russia and China.

After meeting with Mr. Jaishankar for over an hour, Mr. Lavrov praised India’s “responsible approach” to global issues, which he said extended to its position on Ukraine. He said the two men had spoken about the war but did not elaborate, noting that it was one of several issues, including arms production and nuclear energy cooperation, that were discussed.

New Delhi is heavily reliant on Russia for the largest part of its arms imports and Moscow has helped India to build nuclear and space capabilities from scratch.

A career diplomat, Mr. Jaishankar has portrayed the close relationship between the countries as one of the few constants in a rapidly changing world. His book about how India must carefully chart a multilateral diplomatic path is seen as a definitive take on the country’s foreign policy under Mr. Modi.

“Typically, defense, nuclear and space are collaborations you only do with countries with whom you have a high degree of trust,” Mr. Jaishankar had told members of the Indian diaspora in Moscow on Tuesday.

But the relationship shows signs of strain. Indian officials are increasingly worried that Russia’s pariah status will drive Moscow ever closer to China. On another potential competitive front, all three countries are more forcefully portraying themselves as providing leadership and a model for developing nations around the world.

In a reflection of how India is trying to walk the line between Western pressure and its relationship with Russia, this is the second year in a row that Mr. Modi has skipped his traditional in-person summit meeting with Mr. Putin. At the same time, India has refused to support resolutions at the United Nations that condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Happymon Jacob, who teaches Indian foreign policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that apart from India’s increased purchases of Russian oil, the relationship had been less close since the Ukraine invasion.

Still, he said, India will remain reliant on Russia to some degree, particularly in the energy and defense sectors.

“Russia is the only country that has provided India with nuclear reactors — notwithstanding the fact that India signed a nuclear deal in 2008 with the United States,” he said.

Russia, in its own right, has been trying to use its relationship with India to balance its increasing trade dependence on China. Last May, Mr. Putin signed an agreement with his Iranian counterpart, President Ebrahim Raisi, to build a railway that would link Moscow with India through an Iranian port on the Persian Gulf.

During Mr. Jaishankar’s visit on Tuesday, India and Russia agreed to the construction of future power-generating units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in southern India, which is being built with assistance from Russia. Construction on the plant began in March 2002. It is expected to start operating at full capacity in 2027.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

Indian Envoy Hails Ties With Russia, Despite Western Pressure

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