Amid the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is heading to Moscow on Monday for a bilateral visit.
Most 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. No word yet on a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it can’t 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 war broke out in Ukraine that Putin and Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, will be in the same room.
Jaishankar’s trip is being seen as a pivotal moment, with Delhi emerging as a potential negotiator between the two sides. He last visited Moscow in July 2021.
It is learned that India has quietly intervened in recent months when there has been a blockade. In July, India had intervened with Russia over grain shipment from Black Sea ports.
Many of these messages have been delivered quietly, with Delhi positioning itself as a player with credibility on both sides. But, this has not always worked.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had offered help for peace talks in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month. But, according to the report, Zelenskyy rejected the offer.
The report said that, according to a statement released by Zelensky’s office, “Zelensky told him that Ukraine would not conduct any negotiations with Putin, but said that Ukraine was committed to a peaceful solution through dialogue.” The statement noted that Russia had deliberately undermined dialogue efforts, he said.
But as winter approaches in the conflict zone, there is a sense that both sides would like a ceasefire before early next year, when they can regroup and resume the conflict. Many see this as a potential opportunity for a ceasefire, and Delhi could act as an intermediary between the two sides.
For Delhi, the bilateral aspect is key. This is the first winter in three years when Russian military supply lines are under strain due to the eight-month war in Ukraine, and simultaneously Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a border standoff in the east from Ladakh.
For India, which depends on Russia for its defense supplies, this is the most important pillar of the relationship.
The new element is the energy relationship as Russia is said to have become India’s biggest crude supplier in October 2022 as refiners stepped up purchases of discounted marine oil. This has added a new element to relations with Moscow, which has not gone down well with either Ukraine or Western partners.
Jaishankar’s visit is also expected to take this aspect into consideration, and officials said this will be part of his conversation with Manturov, his counterpart at the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural, the IRIGC-TEC.
“Issues related to bilateral economic cooperation will be discussed, obviously in various areas,” MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday, ahead of the visit.
What is also significant is that it is Modi’s turn to visit Russia this year, and if a possible visit is made next month, Jaishankar will be there to lay the groundwork.
In the run-up to Jaishankar’s visit, Putin has been effusive about Modi and India. He had praised India calling its citizens “talented” and “driven”, a week after praising Modi and calling him a “true patriot”.