Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss defence and trade relations as India attempts to balance its ties with the United States.
The agenda for the annual summit on Monday included political and defence issues, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
The meeting between Modi and Putin in New Delhi comes hours after the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries held a strategic dialogue to discuss reinforcing ties between India and Russia.
The two countries also signed a slew of bilateral defence agreements, including India’s procurement of more than 600,000 assault rifles from Russia.
India’s Ministry of Defence called it a “landmark” deal that would replace a locally made rifle with a modern weapon, ending the “long quest” for its army’s needs.
India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said India and Russia signed 28 investment pacts on Monday, including deals on steel, shipbuilding, coal and energy.
India starts to receive S-400
India has also begun to receive S-400 missiles from Russia this month, Shringla said, adding that supplies would continue.
Speaking during the meeting, Modi said the agreements reached would be “beneficial across various sectors”.
“Under the ‘Make in India’ programme, our co-development and co-production projects are making our defence cooperation stronger. Our cooperation is also progressing in the space and civil nuclear sectors,” Modi said.
The two countries also signed an agreement to extend their military technology cooperation for the next decade.
Speaking in the capital alongside Modi, Putin said: “Our colleagues, foreign and defence ministers are here; this is the first meeting in this format. It means that we continue to develop our relations on the international scene and in the military sphere.
“We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend,” Putin said.
India and Russia have a long history of close ties and have already set a target of $30bn in bilateral trade by the end of 2025.
Complex regional dynamics
But recently, India has drawn closer to the United States, which it considers critical to countering China.
Putin has to contend with complex regional dynamics, with tensions mounting between New Delhi and Beijing, traditionally an ally of Moscow, following a months-long military standoff along their disputed border in eastern Ladakh. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in border clashes with China last year. China said it lost four soldiers.
Nandan Unnikrishnan from the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank told the AFP news agency that Putin’s visit was “hugely symbolic”.
“There has been a lot of speculation about the nature of the India-Russia relationship and whether it is fraying because of Russia’s closeness with China and India’s with the US, but this visit puts all that to rest,” Unnikrishnan said.
But Tatiana Belousova of OP Jindal Global University in Haryana said Russia’s influence in the region is “very limited”.
“Mostly because of its close ties with China and unwillingness to act in dissonance with the Chinese regional interests.”
Russia, meanwhile, has expressed reservations over the formation of the Quad, a grouping involving the US, India, Japan and Australia formed in response to China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.
India’s foreign secretary said concern over the Indo-Pacific strategy was raised with Russia.
Putin and Modi also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, voicing their commitment to ensure that the country will never become a safe haven for international “terrorism”.