The recent one day informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at Sochi is an illustration of the uniqueness with which Mr Modi conducts his foreign policy. That the meeting happened in May is intriguing since the two leaders are scheduled to meet at least twice in the next few months (at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Qingdao and the BRICS summit in Johannesburg).
The meeting was held in the background of two important global developments having implications for both India and Russia. One is the US backing out of the Iran Nuclear deal and the other is cancellation of the US-North Korea talks (which were scheduled to be held in Singapore on July 12) by Trump administration.
Indo-Russian trade is dangerously dependent on the arms and energy trade. As the Russian Foreign Minister – Sergei Lavrov – noted that two sides need to focus on the economic cooperation. Diversification of trade needs to be done and over dependence on military trade needs to be addressed. The decision to institute a Strategic Economic Dialogue between India’s NITI Ayog and the Russian Ministry of Economic Development is a welcome step in this direction. Delhi and Moscow have also decided to hold their maiden strategic economic dialogue in July in St Petersburg to push economic partnership.
India is also worried about Russia’s growing proximity with Pakistan. The decision to supply Mi-35M assault helicopters to Islamabad by Moscow has raised eyebrows in New Delhi. As New Delhi is drifting away from Moscow, it in turn is inching closer to Beijing. New Delhi’s gradual embrace of Washington is evident from the developments in the recent past. India’s defense deals with US are increasing with New Delhi also joining several bilateral and multilateral defense forums (of which US is a part).
In light of the current unpredictable global environment, such informal summit between the head of the states to recalibrate the bilateral relations is a welcome step.