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Indo-Russian Talks Stress Bilateral Ties, But Facts Point to ‘Russia Leaning Towards China': Expert

© Sputnik / Mikhail Klimentyev / Go to the mediabankRussian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a picture with participants while touring an exhibition on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 4, 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a picture with participants while touring an exhibition on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 4, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.12.2021
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi in the late afternoon on Monday to hold the 21st Annual Summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is expected that the two countries will sign at least 10 agreements in various areas, including defence and energy.
India's Ministry of External Affairs has said that the leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations and discuss ways to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.
Media reports suggest that aside from defence and military agreements, Russia's Far East will be the big focus of the summit.
D. Bala Venkatesh Varma, who retired as India's ambassador to Moscow in November, noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Act Far East Policy" is a revolutionary step of huge geopolitical significance, and invariably, India's role in Russia's Far East Region forms a major part of New Delhi's ambitions to strengthen relations with the surrounding Northeast Asian economies.
India has also set its eye on the Eurasian economy and seeks early trade deals for the bloc, which has the more significant influence of Russia. Narendra Modi's government has also been looking for Russia to have a "more pro-active presence and participation" in the Indo-Pacific Region. The Indian government has also sought Russian help in developing its nuclear-powered attack submarines, Project 75A.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that bilateral trade is showing positive growth; ties are actively developing in the energy sector, innovation, space, and the production of coronavirus vaccines and medicines.

"Russia has a similar foreign policy philosophy and priorities with India, our specially privileged strategic partner. We intend to build up our truly multifaceted bilateral cooperation. We regard India as an independent, strong centre of the multipolar world", Vladimir Putin said.

However, several experts in India also pointed towards the remarks made on the same occasion where he said that Russia's ties with China "reached the highest level in history" and are now "a model for effective interstate cooperation in the 21st century".
Sputnik has spoken with Swaran Singh, a professor of diplomacy and disarmament at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University on a range of issues, and asked about his views on the role of China in India and Russia ties.
Sputnik: Border clashes between India and China have become a testing time for Russia, considering it has a cordial relationship with both countries. Despite some media reports claiming Russia has aligned with China more during this period, India and Russia have reiterated their strong ties and vowed to strengthen them further. Do you find any gap between words and action on the ground between India and Russia?
Prof Swaran Singh: No doubt Russia's ties with China have expanded, making it difficult for Moscow to choose between New Delhi and Beijing. China has not only emerged as a major defence partner of Russia, but their bilateral trade today stands at a whopping $40 billion compared to India's bilateral trade with Russia staying below $9 billion. This creates difficulties for Moscow to manage both these major partner nations.
Russia, however, has continued to attempt a balancing act, avoiding choosing sides. In the midst of the China-India border tension last year, Moscow's delay in supplying China with its contracted S-400 was interpreted in India as Russia being sensitive to India's concerns. The same S-400 missiles will be arriving in India this month.
Also, in times of a pandemic, after his first ever foreign visit to meet US President Joe Biden in Geneva, President Vladimir Putin's second foreign visit to India underlies the historic and strategic nature of their relations. So while this 21st India-Russia summit underlines its significance, the facts clearly allude to Russia's gradual, yet growing, lean towards China.
Sputnik: The Arctic has economic and strategic significance. Will China, which has a significant presence in the region, be a roadblock for India's ambition?
Prof Swaran Singh: The Arctic opening of the Northern Sea Route, which shortens shipping time between East Asian and West European ports by one-third, has also made the world conscious of its gigantic hydrocarbon and iron reserves as well as other strategic minerals. China already calls itself a "near-Arctic state", though amongst others like Japan and South Korea, India has also invested over $15 billion in Russia's Far East region. However, none of these countries have yet begun undercutting each other, but indeed China's enormous investments provide a formidable challenge to other stakeholders like India.
Sputnik: India has announced a credit line for Russia's Far East region, but the two countries have yet to agree on implementation. Is this a sign of significant differences, and does China's concern have a role in delaying the implementation?
Prof Swaran Singh: The delay in India's implementation of its $1 billion Line of Credit announced in 2018 is not unusual in such international investments. Even in the case of China -- which is notorious for expediting its turnkey projects -- there are invariably instances of such delays and hiccups. As for China being a factor in the delay in India's investments, this should be the other way around and push India to expedite building partnerships with Russia. This summit taking place in Delhi -- after a gap of two years -- is expected to provide impetus to accelerating such joint initiatives.
Sputnik: Days ahead of the India-Russia Summit, the foreign ministers of the RIC met virtually. Reports say it reveals differences over the Indo-Pacific Region. What is your assessment of the meet?
Prof Swaran Singh: Russia has expressed its concerns about India's engagement with the US-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. This is driven much more by how the Trump administration approached its Indo-Pacific strategy rather than India's. Starting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's June 2018 speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, India has advocated keeping the Indo-Pacific non-militarised and inclusive, even explicitly calling for the inclusion of Russia as a major maritime power in this region. Starting with the Indo-Russian 2+2 Dialogue -- after India started similar dialogues with the US, Japan, Australia -- this should bring better understanding between the two sides, reinforcing their time-tested strategic partnership, which has global implications.
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