Will Modi-Putin informal meet revive India-Russia friendship?
In view of United States President Donald Trump’s whimsical policies, these informal summits seek to reset the shape and scope of rapidly transforming global geopolitics where India wishes to ensure its place under the sunopinion Updated: May 21, 2018 15:50 IST
This seems to be the season for informal summits, especially among powerful leaders of major powers. After meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi this Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron next week. Modi is also expected to have many such informal summits.
In view of United States President Donald Trump’s whimsical policies, these informal summits seek to reset the shape and scope of rapidly transforming global geopolitics where India wishes to ensure its place under the sun. Also, this hyperactive footwork seems a perfect fit for Modi’s personality-driven style of diplomacy as he prefers to directly engage world leaders free from the constraints of protocols, officials, agendas or outcomes. Here the optics, atmospherics and personal chemistry create a mystique of trust, promising bold decisions to resolve complex conundrums.
However, the Modi-Putin Sochi meet also has its bilateral drivers. The last two-decades of India cosying up to the US has resulted in Russia’s drift towards China and Pakistan, even the Taliban, triggering trends of marginalising India even in South Asia. India’s defence imports from Russia have declined substantially and this will continue given that most of India’s recent procurement deals have been with western nations. Now, Trump’s ‘America First’ has ignited an urgency for New Delhi to mend its ties with Beijing and Moscow, which explains the recent spate of high-level visits as also these back-to-back visits to Wuhan and Sochi.
Trump’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction’s Act poses the most formidable challenge to India-Russia defence cooperation. It seeks to impose sanctions on countries doing business with US adversaries. It has already triggered sanctions on Russia and threatened to scuttle its defence exports to India. Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal will re-impose sanctions on Iran and will also target countries doing business with Tehran. Thus, Sochi will explore ways of protecting India-Russia defence ties as also on how energy-surplus Russia can help India in facing the economic consequences of an already visible sharp decline in Iran’s oil production.
Conversely, Trump’s decisions have also triggered his crisis of credibility in West Asia and, given India’s enduring interests in the region, Modi must synergise India’s policies with Moscow’s approach to Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and on other themes like terrorism that will come up for debate in the SCO and BRICS summits. This has already seen New Delhi stand by Moscow in its recent standoffs with western nations, first on the Salisbury case of chemical poisoning of two Russians in Britain and then in the case of Russian support for Bashar al-Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. New Delhi abstained on the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons resolution asking for evidence before apportioning blames.
Modi and Putin will discuss how to co-ordinate various regional and global issues, in addition to ways to protest bilateral defence, nuclear and infrastructure projects. This will also set the tone for the many meetings the two leaders will have throughout this year.
Swaran Singh is professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
The views expressed are personal