On a two-day visit to Vladivostok earlier this week to attend the 20th edition of the India-Russia annual summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed 25 agreements, mostly pertaining to defence and the strategic domain that has been the backbone of Delhi-Moscow relations since the Soviet days. Importantly, this included the decision to sign up on the new area of maritime connectivity — to link Chennai and Vladivostok. But without doubt, politically it was Kashmir that was at the top of Mr Modi’s mind.
At a joint press meet with Mr Putin on Wednesday, Mr Modi said their two countries were against “outside influence” in the internal matters of any country. This is a much-needed reiteration of an old principle in international affairs which Mr Modi’s ideological bête noir, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had made this country famous for.
With Pakistan gearing up to make Kashmir the centrepiece of its concerns at the UN forum later this month, Mr Modi couldn’t have thought of a better strategic move than to firm up Russian support. When Pakistan’s “iron friend” China took Kashmir to an informal gathering of the UN Security Council last month, alone among the members of the UNSC, Russia declared Kashmir to be an “internal” matter of India.
The formulation of keeping external influence out suits Russia as well, especially in the Afghan theatre where, along with other neighbours of Kabul, Moscow too would like American influence to loosen.
In wooing Moscow assiduously, Mr Modi has indicated that his foreign policy is alive to India’s crucial concerns and geopolitical dynamics, and that it is no longer wholly reliant on just a strong American connection, which seemed to be at the heart of his foreign policy foray five years ago.
Buffeted by harsh realities, the Indian leader was wise enough to pull back somewhat from a zero sum game that had made him pitch himself headlong into Washington’s arms. This occurred when Mr Putin’s Moscow began to exhibit a tilt toward Islamabad on a matter as vital for India as terrorism, discomfiting New Delhi. By and by, the Indian leadership learnt that putting all one’s eggs in one basket was far from advisable, and a course correction was duly effected. The process commenced with an informal Modi-Putin summit at Sochi in May 2018, and gained considerable steam by October the same year with India committing itself to the purchase of S-400 Triumf missiles from Russia in a $5 billion deal when President Putin was in New Delhi on a day-long working visit.
The US chafed, and there were implied threats of the use of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), but Washington thought the better of this afterward, extracting instead other defence-related vital purchases from New Delhi. For India, it is useful that the PM is learning to play the balancing game in a multi-polar