Fear of China is behind India’s exuberant display of friendship with Vladimir Putin

Fear of China is behind India’s exuberant display of friendship with Vladimir Putin

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President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting outside Moscow in July 2024

  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Russia to visit its president Vladimir Putin. 
  • It’s a visit that risks annoying India’s ally the US. 
  • Modi hopes his relationship with Putin will help offset China’s power. 

When India’s prime minister arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, he greeted Russia’s famously chilly president, Vladimir Putin, with an exuberant bear hug.

It was a move likely to rile the US, India’s most important geopolitical ally, which has placed pressure on New Delhi to loosen its ties with Russia over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fear of China — a key Russian ally — means that he’s willing to risk American anger to keep Putin close.

“New Delhi sees Moscow as an important buffer in their relationship due to Moscow’s strong ties with Beijing,” Sarang Shidore, an analyst at the Quincy Institute, told Business Insider.

“It is not in Russia’s interest to have China and India at loggerheads, so it could, to a degree, act as a restraining agent.”

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India ignores US pressure to cut Russia ties

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was among India’s most important allies, with the Kremlin providing military support during India’s clashes with Pakistan.

They’ve remained close ever since, but the relationship is being tested anew in the fallout from the Ukraine war.

The US has attempted to persuade India to take part in its campaign to isolate Russia over the Ukraine invasion — but with little success.

“Russia is one of India’s oldest strategic partners, and New Delhi wants to maintain this relationship regardless of Russia’s diplomatic isolation following the war in Ukraine,” Rahul Bhatia, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, told BI.

India has increased its purchase of Russian goods, including oil and fertilizer, at reduced prices after the US imposed sanctions on Russia.

It continues to buy Russian armaments, with around 70% of its weapons systems believed to be Russian-made, and its military reliant on the Kremlin for spare parts and upgrades.

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“Taking a hardline position against Russia could have both economic and security ramifications for India,” said Richard Rossow, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China’s threat to India increases

The threat from Chinese leader Xi Jinping is another key factor in Modi’s determination to ignore US pressure and retain good ties with Putin.

China’s regional might is growing, and it’s menacing India, Asia’s other major economic power.

In 2020, a long-simmering border dispute resulted in deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops. China has bolstered its presence in the Indian Ocean, and the two are jostling for influence in countries in the region.

China has built stronger ties with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, hoping a Russian victory will damage US power and enhance its own global might. And it’s this friendship Modi’s seeking to drive a wedge between.

“There is a real chance of future conflicts, and India would prefer to avoid Russia exporting advanced military hardware to China,” said Rossow.

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Some Indian analysts believe that China poses a greater threat to Russia than NATO in the long term and that India can exploit those differences.

“The Russia-China ‘alliance’ may be short-term in nature, and that historical conflicts between the two, such as over their long border and under-developed natural resources in Russia’s east, will resurface and trigger renewed tensions,” said Morrow.

But for the time being, Russia’s new “no limits” partnership has got Modi worried, and he’ll likely be hoping for a swift end to the Ukraine war. By maintaining good relations with Putin he’s hoping he can contain the fallout.

“The war does not at all benefit its interests. The war also opens the door to legitimizing violations of territorial integrity, and endangers a principle that New Delhi has backed strongly,” said Shidore.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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