Russia’s Vladimir Putin and India’s Narendra Modi will meet at a BRICS summit in Goa this weekend, but the typically warm relationship may be complicated by Russia’s recent military activity in Pakistan. Financial Times:
Last month about 70 Russian troops arrived in Pakistan for their first joint combat exercise with their south Asian counterparts.
For India, one of Russia’s longest and firmest allies, the timing could not have been worse. It had just suffered an attack on one of its army bases in Kashmir, blamed on militants from Pakistan.
Observers say New Delhi’s subsequent spat with Islamabad is a sign of a wider sense of drift in its unlikely alliance with Moscow, which has influenced Indian foreign policy since the earliest days of independence.
Russia’s decision to go ahead with military exercises with Pakistan, even as the Kashmir conflict heats up, has clearly rattled India. The military drills were initially announced in January, and took place between September 24 and October 10. According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, the training focused on exchanging tactical experience fighting illegal armed groups, particularly in mountainous terrain. Shoygu noted that Russia had also conducted recent exercises with China and India and that such drills would continue, commenting that “such activities bring military cooperation to a higher level, allowing the strengthening of global and regional security.”
Russia has downplayed India’s objections to the drills. Zamir Kabulov of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Middle East department, for instance, said that New Delhi should not be concerned since the drills would be held far from the disputed territories. But that has not reassured some observers in India, who fear that the traditionally strong India-Russia relationship is now on rockier ground. The controversy comes at a time when Moscow is throwing its weight around the Middle East and re-assessing old relationships. Russia has recently mended fences with Turkey, for instance, in order to pursue joint interests in Syria.
It is expected that Russia and India will finalize a multibillion dollar deal for Rosneft to buy a 49% stake in India’s Essar Oil Ltd on Saturday, which would represent Russia’s biggest direct investment in India to date. Russia has also been India’s prime weapons supplier, and the BRICS summit may present the opportunity to sign off on lucrative defense deals. So the relationship still has legs.
But as bilateral talks unfold this weekend, it is worth watching how India and Russia can square their economic cooperation with their geopolitical disagreements over Pakistan.