AMID the Russia-Ukraine conflict, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will go to Moscow on Monday for a bilateral visit.
Several of his meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, including a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry, Denis Manturov. There is no word yet on a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it cannot be ruled out.
Jaishankar’s visit assumes significance as it comes days before the G-20 summit in Bali, scheduled for November 15-16. This will be the first time since the war broke out in Ukraine that Putin and western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, will be in the same room.
Jaishankar’s visit is seen as a key moment, where Delhi is billed as a potential negotiator between the two sides. He last visited Moscow in July 2021.
It has been found that India has quietly intervened in the last few months, when there was a standoff. In July, India tied with Russia in transporting grain from Black Sea ports.
Most of these messages were delivered quietly, and Delhi positioned itself as a reliable player on both sides. But, that doesn’t always work.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered support for peace talks in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month. But, Zelenskyy refused the offer, according to the report.
The report said that according to a statement released by Zelensky’s office, “Zelensky told him that Ukraine would not pursue any negotiations with Putin but said that Ukraine was committed to a peaceful settlement through dialogue”. The statement noted that Russia has deliberately undermined efforts at dialogue, it said.
But, as winter approaches the conflict zone, there is a feeling that both sides may want to end the war before the beginning of next year, when they can reunite and restart the conflict. Many see this as a potential opportunity to end the war, and Delhi can become a broker between the two sides.
For Delhi, bilateralism is key. This is the first winter in the last three years, when the supply lines of the Russian army are under pressure because of the eight-month-old war in Ukraine, and, at the same time, Indian and Chinese soldiers are trapped on the eastern border of Ladakh.
For India, which depends on Russia for its defence, this is the most important pillar of the relationship.
What is new is the power relationship, as Russia is reported to have become India’s largest crude oil supplier by October 2022 as refiners have increased purchases of discounted offshore oil. This has added a new dimension to ties with Moscow, which have not gone down well with Ukraine and its Western allies.
Jaishankar’s visit is expected to look into this issue as well, and officials say this will be part of his conversation with Manturov, his counterpart at the Russian Trade Commission for Trade, Economy, Science, Technology and Cultural Cooperation, IRIGC-TEC.
“Issues related to bilateral economic cooperation obviously, in different areas, will be discussed,” MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday, ahead of the visit.
More importantly, it is Modi’s chance to visit Russia this year, and if a possible visit takes place next month, Jaishankar will be there to lay the groundwork.
During Jaishankar’s visit, Putin had been talking badly about Modi and India. He praised India for calling its citizens “talented” and “driven”, a week after he praised Modi and called him a “true patriot”.