Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made Russia the destination of his first bilateral visit after securing a historic third term in office. On top of that, he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a bear hug while he was there.

The spectacle involving the two leaders came on the same day Russia hit a Ukrainian children’s hospital with a missile strike and ahead of a three-day NATO leaders’ summit in Washington DC that started on Tuesday.

“It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a post on X on Monday.

On Monday, the US State Department said it has raised concerns with New Delhi about India’s relationship with Russia.

Modi’s advances toward Putin come less than two months after the usually reserved Chinese leader Xi Jinping hugged Putin not once, but twice — dealing another blow to the West’s isolation of Russia.

What India wants from Russia

Like Xi, Modi has his own agenda for cozying up to Putin during the two-day visit.

India is an important strategic partner for the US and the rest of the world, which is aiming to diversify supply chains away from China.

Over the last two years, India-Russia trade has grown. The relationship is underscored by energy, as India has become a major buyer of Russian oil.

But there’s a huge trade imbalance that Modi is seeking to narrow. India imported about $60 billion of goods a year from Russia in the last fiscal year. In comparison, Russia bought less than $5 billion of goods from India.

“The structure of trade is highly asymmetric, with India running a chronic large trade deficit with Russia,” Rajiv Biswas, an international economist who’s also the author of “Asian Megatrends,” told Business Insider.

To be sure, Russia’s import of Indian products — particularly engineering and electronic equipment — has surged by 35% over the last fiscal year, added Biswas. But, it’s from a low base.

Vinay Kwatra, India’s Foreign Secretary, said after Modi and Putin’s meeting that the two have pledged to boost bilateral trade from nearly $65 billion last year to $100 billion by 2030.

In addition to oil, India is looking to import more fertilizers. Russia is looking to import more Indian agricultural and industrial products.

On the political front, India — which has been mired in a border dispute with China since 2020 — is also looking to leverage on Beijing’s cozy relationship with Moscow.

“Security is an increasingly important factor driving India’s relations with Russia,” said Biswas.

“Due to Russia’s close ties with China, India can turn to Russia to help defuse crises when bilateral geopolitical tensions flare up between India and China,” he added.

After all, Putin chose to head to China — rather than to India — in his first foreign state visit in May after he was sworn in for a fifth presidential term.

Xi definitely welcomed Putin; after all, the Chinese leader initiated the hug.



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