NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to discuss defense and trade relations as India attempts to balance its ties with the United States.
The agenda for the annual summit included political and defense issues, according to India's external affairs ministry. The two leaders also discussed Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year that has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country.
“In the last few decades, the world witnessed many fundamental changes and different kinds of geopolitical equations emerged but the friendship of India and Russia remained constant,” Modi said in introductory remarks before his meeting with Putin.
India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the talks were “productive” and that the two countries signed multiple agreements.
The meeting between Modi and Putin in New Delhi came hours after the defense 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 defense agreements, including India's procurement of more than 600,000 assault rifles from Russia.
India's defense ministry 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.
The two countries also signed an agreement to extend their military technology cooperation for the next decade.
India and Russia have a long history of close ties and have already set a target of $30 billion in bilateral trade by the end of 2025. But recently, India has drawn closer to the United States, which it considers critical to countering China. India and China have had a months-long military standoff along their disputed border in eastern Ladakh, where deadly clashes erupted last year.
Russia, meanwhile, has expressed reservations over the formation of the Quad, a grouping involving the U.S., India, Japan and Australia formed in response to China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.
India is trying to navigate its defense relationship with Russia as it ramps up its military ties with the United States.
India, a major buyer of military equipment, depended largely on the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. But it has been diversifying its purchases by opting for U.S. equipment as well. During the Donald Trump presidency, the U.S. and India concluded defense deals worth over $3 billion. Bilateral defense trade increased from near zero in 2008 to $15 billion in 2019.
India’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems which it considers to be critical in countering China could prove to be an irritant in Indo-U.S. ties. The S-400 is a sophisticated surface-to-air defense system. Once acquired, it is expected to give India strategic deterrence against rivals China and Pakistan.
The missile system deal with Moscow has, however, put India at risk of U.S. sanctions. Washington has asked its partners to stay away from Russian military equipment to avoid possible sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.