WITH over 6 lakh Covid-19 cases each so far, old allies India and Russia are among the countries worst hit by the pandemic. It’s natural for both to envisage stronger bilateral ties in the post-Covid world, as emphasised by PM Narendra Modi during his telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. There is a bigger reason why India needs Russian support — muscle-flexing by the Chinese in Ladakh. Setting its sights on a massive upgrade of its military capabilities, India is banking on Russia for the supply of fighter jets and the much-vaunted S400 anti-aircraft missile system. India has promptly reached out to its all-weather friend in recent weeks, be it through Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s trip to Russia or External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s participation in a virtual trilateral conference involving Russia, India and China.
Russia, which enjoys good relations with China as well as India, can’t be expected to take sides openly. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov has made it clear that his country is not keen on acting as a mediator to resolve India-China differences, fearing that any intervention could ‘seriously hurt the efforts Beijing and New Delhi are independently making to find a way out of this situation.’ However, a prolonged standoff can impact trilateral interests and force Moscow to choose its friend. Russia’s keenness to improve cooperation with India can send a subtle message to Beijing. What Russia does behind the scenes could help India in building international consensus against Chinese transgressions.
PM Modi’s surprise visit to Ladakh on Friday, which came hours after his chat with Putin, has signalled his intent to confront the hostile neighbour head-on. Along with enhancing military firepower and reducing economic dependence on China, India needs diplomatic heft in the global arena to turn the tide. A nationwide vote in favour of constitutional amendments has cleared the decks for Putin to stay in power till 2036. Deeper ties with Russia’s undisputed leader can pay dividends to India both in the short and long terms.