PM Modi hugs Putin on Russia visit, tea meet at his home, golf cart ride


Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew into Moscow on Monday and warmly hugged President Vladimir Putin on a visit that treads a fine line between maintaining a longstanding relationship with Moscow and courting closer Western security ties.

The visit is PM Modi’s first since Russia launched its campaign in Ukraine and since he was returned to power last month as leader of the world’s most populous country.

After meeting Moscow’s Indian community, PM Modi had an informal meeting with President Putin at his residence at Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow, where the leaders drank tea on a terrace, rode in a golf cart together, and visited stables.

PM Modi told Putin it was a “moment of joy” to visit and thanked him for planning “that we chit-chat here this evening”.

“Looking forward to our talks tomorrow as well, which will surely go a long way in further cementing the bonds of friendship between India and Russia,” PM Modi later wrote on X, posting a photo of the leaders hugging.

Moscow remains a key supplier of cut-price oil and weapons to India, but the Kremlin’s isolation from the West and blooming friendship with Beijing have impacted its time-honoured partnership with New Delhi.

PM Modi last visited Russia in 2019 and hosted Putin in New Delhi two years later, weeks before Russia began its offensive against Ukraine.

Russia’s fight with Ukraine has also had a human cost for India.

New Delhi said in February that it was pushing the Kremlin to send back some of its citizens who had signed up for “support jobs” with the Russian military, following reports some were killed after being forced to fight in Ukraine.

Moscow’s deepening ties with China have also been a cause for concern.

Washington and the European Union accuse China of selling components and equipment that have strengthened Russia’s military industry — allegations that Beijing denies.

China and India are intense rivals competing for strategic influence across South Asia.

India is part of the so-called Quad grouping with the US, Japan, and Australia that positions itself against China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Oil and arms

New Delhi and the Kremlin have maintained a close relationship since the Cold War, and Russia was for a long time India’s largest arms supplier.

But Ukraine has stretched Russia’s arms supplies thin, forcing India to eye other sources for weapons — including by growing its own defence industry.

Russia’s share of Indian imports of arms has shrunk considerably in recent years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

At the same time, India has become a major buyer of Russian oil, providing a much-needed export market for Moscow after it was cut off from traditional buyers in Europe.

That has drastically reshaped energy ties, with India saving itself billions of dollars.

India’s month-on-month imports of Russian crude “increased by eight percent in May, to the highest levels since July 2023”, according to commodity tracking data compiled by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

But this has also resulted in India’s trade deficit with Russia rising to a little over $57 billion in the past financial year.

From Russia, PM Modi will travel to Vienna for the first visit to the Austrian capital by an Indian leader since Indira Gandhi in 1983.