09 July 2024

Modi and Putin aim for ‘stronger ties’ during talks in Moscow

09 July 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met Vladimir Putin in Moscow, seeking to deepen the relationship between the two nuclear powers at a time when Nato leaders gathered in Washington and a Russian missile hit a children’s hospital in Ukraine.

“Our relationship is one of a particularly privileged strategic partnership,” the Russian president told Mr Modi, who made his first trip to Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Kremlin’s forces in 2022.

Mr Modi has avoided condemning Russia while emphasising the need for a peaceful settlement.

Their partnership has become more complicated, however, as Russia has moved closer to China amid international isolation of Moscow over Ukraine. Mr Modi did not attend last week’s summit in Kazakhstan of a security organisation founded by Moscow and Beijing.

Mr Modi arrived in Moscow on Monday, shortly after Russian missiles struck across Ukraine, severely damaging the largest children’s hospital in Kyiv and killing at least 42 people nationwide.

Mr Modi on Tuesday alluded to the bloodshed while speaking about his meeting with Mr Putin, which involved over four hours of talks.

“Be it war, a struggle or a terrorist attack, every person who believes in humanity, when there is loss of life, he is pained,” the Indian prime minister said. “When innocent children are killed, when we see innocent children dying, then the heart pains. And that pain is very horrible.”

Mr Modi said the two leaders shared “our opinions on Ukraine with an open heart and in detail. We respectfully listened to each other”.

He added that “a solution is not possible on the battlefield. Between bombs, guns and bullets, a solution and peace talks cannot be successful. And we have to adopt the path of peace only through talks.”

Mr Modi’s trip received extensive coverage at home, including his laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Kremlin wall, but coverage of Russia’s deadly attack in Ukraine was muted.

In televised comments, Mr Putin said “all issues” were discussed with Mr Modi, who visited the Russian leader at his residence near Moscow on Monday. The two shook hands and embraced as they met.

At the Nato summit in Washington, Western leaders marked the military alliance’s 75th anniversary and sought to reassure Ukraine of their support.

While Western countries have hit Russia with sanctions, Mr Putin pointed out that trade between Russia and India increased by 66% last year, adding that it is a key focus of Mr Modi’s trip.

Mr Modi said that because of Russia’s support, “we were able to save Indian citizens from difficulties related to requirements of petrol and diesel”, adding that the nations’ agreements on energy “helped provide market stability to the world indirectly”.

Russian state media reported that they would also discuss Moscow helping India build more nuclear power plants. The two countries already are collaborating on the Kudankulam nuclear power project in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Russia had strong ties with India during the Cold War, and New Delhi’s importance as a key trading partner with Moscow has grown since the war in Ukraine.

China and India are key buyers of Russian oil following sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies that shut most Western markets off to Russian exports. India now gets more than 40% of its oil imports from Russia, according to analysts.

Mr Modi last traveled to Russia in 2019, when he attended a forum in the far eastern port of Vladivostok and met Mr Putin. They also saw each other in September 2022 in Uzbekistan, at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation bloc.

A confrontation in June 2020 along the disputed China-India border dramatically altered the already touchy relationship between Beijing and New Delhi as rival troops fought with rocks, clubs and fists. At least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers were killed. Tensions have persisted — and have seeped into how India views Russia.

But Mr Modi is expected to continue close relations with Russia, which is also a major defence supplier for India.

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