Ukraine, trade, ties: Modi’s balancing act in meeting with Putin


Amid the disapproving glare of the United States and Ukraine, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi performed a balancing act in Moscow with his interactions with Russian president Vladimir Putin. While Modi hailed  the “friendship” between the two countries, he also made his “pain” at the murder of innocent children known to Putin and said no solution to any conflict is possible on the battlefield. 

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Modi was in Moscow on July 8 and 9 for the 22nd India-Russia annual summit. This was his first trip to Russia since the country has started invading Ukraine and thus was being keenly watched by both Washington and Kyiv. 

Even amid global powers denouncing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, India has chosen to take the middle-path as Russia is India’s largest arms supplier, with Russian weapons making for 36% of the country’s imports. It has also become the largest buyer of Russia’s crude oil since 2022 when the west imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion. India’s decision to not openly call out Russia is also driven by its strategy to prevent Russia-China and Russia-Pakistan ties from deepening. 

Discussions on Ukraine

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In a televised chat with Putin, Modi said when it came to Ukraine, he was happy that in his informal meeting a day before with Putin, both could discuss their views “openly and elaborately”. He also said both of them heard and understood each other’s views “with respect”. 

Crucially, a day after a major Russian missile attack across Ukraine killed at least 20 people with one missile even striking a children’s hospital in Kyiv, Modi told Putin:

“Your Excellency, let’s take war, any conflict or terrorist acts: any person who believes in humanity feels pain when people die, and especially when innocent children die. When we feel such pain, the heart simply explodes.”

He also made India’s stand on the Russia-Ukraine war clear in a subtle way by stating that “solutions to conflict must be found through dialogue” and not on the battlefield. 

“India is in favour of Peace, and I want to tell the international community that after my talks with my friend Putin I am filled with hope about it.”

Putin in turn said he was “grateful” to Modi trying to find ways to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

Reaction of Washington and Kyiv on the meet

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A day before, a statement by the US made it clear that the country was watching the meet with great scrutiny. 

“India is a strategic partner with whom we engage in a full and frank dialogue. And that includes our concerns about their relationship with Russia,” state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

“I will look to Prime Minister Modi’s public remarks to see what he talked about. But as I said, we made quite clear directly with India our concerns about their relationship with Russia. So we would hope India and any other country, when they engage with Russia, would make clear that Russia should respect the UN charter, should respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said in response to a question.

Meanwhile, with Modi’s visit overlapping with the missile attack,  Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky had also lashed out against the Indian PM. 

“It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day,” Zelensky said in a post on X on Monday. 

Other key takeaways of the two-day meet:

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1. In one of the most significant outcomes of the meeting,  India said Russia agreed to facilitate the discharge and return of all Indians who were “misled” into serving the Russian army by an elaborate human trafficking network in India. 

2. India and Russia set a trade target of $100 billion by 2030. The two countries signed nine documents for cooperation in different fields which included MoUs in the areas of environment and climate change, cartography, polar research, investment, trade and pharma. 

3. Modi announced that India will open two new consulates in Russia- one in Kazan and the other in Yekaterinburg. Currently, India has an embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. 

4. Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom said it was discussing the possibility of building six new nuclear plants in India, Reuters said. 

5. Deputy prime minister of Russia Alexander Novak said Russia was exploring a long-term oil deal with India. 

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