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BREAKINGVIEWS-India’s Russia bonhomie shows limits of bipolarity

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own. Refiles to add dropped title and dropped word in paragraph one.)

By Shritama Bose

MUMBAI, July 11 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Old friendships are resilient. Narendra Modi on Tuesday wrapped up a visit to Moscow. On the first foreign trip of his third term, the Indian prime minister met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The enduring closeness of the two countries upends neat visions of a bifurcating world. A simple popular view is that New Delhi is leaning ever-closer to Washington as tensions rise between the United States and China, and all the countries stuck in the middle are forced to pick a side. Yet India's trade with Russia, though lopsided because of the South Asian nation's purchases of oil, grew 75% to $65 billion in 2023, while India's business with the United States shrunk 9% to $119 billion in the same year.

Modi wasn't all smiles. He took the opportunity to burnish his statesman credentials by saying the death of innocent children was painful in an apparent rebuke of Russia's missile attack on Monday on a children's hospital in Ukraine, even as the Indian leader courted Putin on topics extending all the way up to space cooperation. It reinforces the idea of a multipolar, issues-based, world-order.

The trip gave Russia the chance to talk up its business relationship with the world’s fifth-largest economy, days after Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan. Russia has grown increasingly dependent on the world's second-largest economy since the West slapped sanctions on it for launching the Ukraine war, though it is probably more reliant on China than it desires. That would help to explain an ambitious goal. India and Russia set a target to achieve $100 billion of bilateral trade by 2030, though that would still amount to less than half the size of Moscow's dealings with the People’s Republic, which hit a record $240 billion last year. India and Russia are also exploring a long-term oil deal, and are discussing how to make it easier to settle trade in rupees. Modi’s Moscow sojourn is the latest reiteration of India’s willingness to choose partners based on its self-interest.

Follow @ShritamaBose on X


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 9 that the death of innocent children was very painful, a day after Russia launched a missile attack on a children's hospital in Kyiv. Modi made the televised remarks at a meeting with Putin during the first overseas state visit of his third term. Putin said the two countries enjoyed a special strategic partnership and thanked Modi for his efforts to find a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine. Russia and India set a bilateral annual trade target of $100 billion by 2030, up from $65 billion currently, the two leaders said in a joint statement on the same day.

(Editing by Una Galani, Katrina Hamlin and Adity aSrivastav)

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