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BRICS Summit 2016: Will Modi-Putin meet restore old ties?

NEW DELHI,RAMESH RAMACHANDRAN: The strategic partnership between India and Russia dates back to October 2000 but over time the bilateral relationship drifted. While Russia turned to China and most recently Pakistan where it conducted joint military exercises, India pivoted to the United States. Along the way the US and Israel supplanted Russia as a major defence supplier but the bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Goa are likely to re-establish Moscow’s pre-eminent status in India’s defence and security calculus.

On Saturday, Putin will meet Modi for the 17th India-Russia annual summit, which will be held on the margins of the BRICS Summit. On the occasion, the two leaders are expected to sign a number of defence deals and also witness the laying of the foundation concrete of Units 3 and 4 of the nuclear reactors being built with Russian assistance at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.

If the ambitious agenda (a vast menu, is how an Indian official put it) of the talks and the proposed outcomes (about 18 agreements are likely to be signed in the areas such as defence and civil nuclear cooperation) are any indicator, the Modi-Putin meeting promises to be as ‘special’ and ‘privileged’ as the strategic partnership between India and Russia.

GV Srinivas, the joint secretary (Eurasia) in the Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters in Goa on Friday that “unmatched mutual confidence”, trust and goodwill cutting across party lines mark the India-Russia bilateral relationship. Their “broad geopolitical interests do not clash”; on the contrary, in some cases they coincide.

Pankaj Saran, India’s ambassador to Russia, in turn, told reporters that terrorism will be a subject of the discussions. Also, the ‘wide range’ of defence deals to be signed are likely to be far-reaching in their scope and importance for India’s defence and security interests. India, he says, can also be expected to iterate its anxieties to Russia on its fledgling military ties with Pakistan. India, says Saran, is confident that Russia will reflect upon India’s concerns.

Among the defence pacts to be signed will be one on the S-400 Triumph advanced anti-aircraft defence system. Some other agreements will be signed out of public view.

Some other regional and global issues such as the situation in Syria, Afghanistan and other countries are also likely to come up for discussion. Saran says the “policy position” on Syria that Modi articulated when he visited Moscow in December last year for the annual India-Russia summit remains valid even today in spite of the changes on the ground in Syria and related developments at the United Nations.

The India-Russia talks will take place before Modi sits down for a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of China. The Sino-Indian relations have been fraught with mutual distrust and suspicion, in sharp contrast to the nature of ties between New Delhi and Moscow. India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which has been hanging fire for a long time now, has been opposed by China on the ground that India is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that Beijing wants a criteria-based exemption rather a country-specific waiver in favour of India. China’s reluctance to lift the technical hold on the proposed proscription of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorost group’s chief Masood Azhar by the United Nations 1267 committee is also expected to come up for discussion.

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