"Indian guest" – Modi heads to Moscow



On July 8–9, the newly re-elected Prime Minister of India will pay an official visit to Russia. Why is this event considered significant?

The news first appeared in the Indian press and was later confirmed by Russian Presidential Assistant Yuri Ushakov and Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. Observers, especially Russian ones, have noted that this is the first foreign visit by the Indian Prime Minister following the parliamentary elections that led to Modi’s re-election. This is seen as a demonstration of India’s foreign policy priorities and a special honor for Russia and its president, whom someone is trying to isolate.

However, there are nuances. Indeed, like in 2015, when Modi made his first visit to Moscow as Prime Minister, the Indian leader is once again turning his attention to Russia. But if 10 years ago Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) triumphantly won the parliamentary elections, essentially staging a democratic revolution and gaining an absolute majority in the lower house, the current situation is not as favorable for Modi. The fatigue of India’s nearly 1.5 billion population with a decade of BJP rule has affected the election results. The BJP lost its majority and now has to rely on coalition partners, which Modi is not very accustomed to. Growing domestic problems require a demonstration of successes in foreign policy. A warm welcome in Moscow will already serve to bolster his image as a global leader claiming a special role in uniting the Global South. As commentators rightly note, this topic will be one of the main issues during the Russian-Indian talks. Both sides are interested in reforming global political and economic structures and increasing the role of non-Western countries.

There is another nuance. Modi’s first foreign trip after his inauguration was supposed to be attending the SCO summit in Astana on July 3–4. However, during this time, he will be facing the crucial first session of the lower house of parliament, where he must present the country’s development program for the next five years. Given the current political landscape, he cannot let this go unattended and leave the country. On the other hand, the Indian leader is reportedly not thrilled about missing the SCO summit, where he promotes interests that do not always align with China’s. Therefore, the Kremlin likely accommodated him by organizing Modi’s visit immediately after the meeting in Astana. Moreover, it is necessary to restore the tradition of regular Russian-Indian summits. This will be Modi’s first visit to Russia since 2019. Vladimir Putin visited India in 2021, and the leaders last met in person in September 2022, when Modi’s phrase «now is not the time for wars» was widely quoted by Westerners.

Last year, there were two high-level Sino-Russian meetings. Following the visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, shortly after his re-election at the March session of the National People’s Congress, Vladimir Putin visited Beijing six months later in October and held another meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Belt and Road summit (a forum India ignores, citing that the Belt and Road projects pass through its territory occupied by China).

As for India’s foreign policy priorities, strictly speaking, the trip to Moscow will not be Modi’s first foreign visit. On June 13–14, after the parliamentary elections, he participated in the G7 summit in Italy, where he was exposed to anti-Russian sentiments and listened to Zelensky and his Western backers. Indian Foreign Minister Pavan Kapoor attended the Swiss conference on Ukraine but did not sign the final communiqué. Observers believe Modi will now attempt to discuss the Ukrainian conflict with the Russian President. Although India is not as active as China in mediating and proposing solutions, Modi is among the leaders trying to make a mark in this area. Perhaps he will succeed?

However, it must be acknowledged that Modi’s visit to Moscow, despite Western pressure demanding Delhi condemn the special military operation, demonstrates a degree of independence by the Indian Prime Minister. At the very least, he tries to show it without going too far while maintaining close relations with Western countries. This is not the Chinese approach, which responds directly to Washington’s pressure with a firm «mind your own business». Nevertheless, modern India, under Modi’s leadership, cannot simply be coerced. It needs to be offered something and engaged in dialogue.

Regarding the upcoming Russian-Indian talks, the focus will be on bilateral issues, primarily trade and economic cooperation, establishing mutual settlements, and investment projects. Despite sanctions, economic relations between Russia and India continue to develop. In the first quarter of 2024, bilateral trade reached a record $17.5 billion (+5% compared to the same period in 2023). For the entire 2023, trade turnover increased 1.8 times compared to 2022, reaching about $65 billion. This is much less than with China ($240 billion), but the potential for growth is significant. Much depends on whether India is willing to develop military-technical cooperation and increase purchases of Russian oil under current conditions.

And this is again the problem of sanctions, confrontation with the West, and issues of independent sovereign policy. The spirit and details of the upcoming negotiations will show how ready and willing the re-elected Indian Prime Minister is to navigate between his country’s interests and the «rules» prescribed by the collective West.