India PM Modi to skip annual summit with Russia’s Putin over Ukraine N-bomb threats

Indian PM Narendra Modi's government is trying to balance between Moscow and the US and its allies. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be holding an annual in-person summit with Mr Vladimir Putin after the Russian President threatened to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, according to sources.

The relationship between India and Russia remains strong, but trumpeting the friendship at this point may not be beneficial for Mr Modi, said a senior official with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. 

It would mark only the second time the leaders of India and Russia have not met face to face since 2000, when the relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership.

The summit, usually held in December, was cancelled just once – in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

A Russian official familiar with the preparations confirmed there will be no summit in 2022.

The official, who asked not to be identified discussing matters that are not public, said India’s decision was clear at a regional summit held in September in Uzbekistan, when Mr Modi urged the Russian President to seek peace in Ukraine.

Publicly, the Kremlin has touted India as a key country that has not publicly joined the criticism over the war in Ukraine led by the United States and its allies. It also pushed to step up trade as sanctions have cut off flows with the US and Europe.

A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment. A representative from the Kremlin also did not immediately respond to a similar request.

India is quietly scaling back engagement as Russia’s war in Ukraine is well into its 10th month, fuelling a surge in energy and food prices. Mr Modi’s government is trying to strike a balance between Moscow, a key provider of weapons and cheap energy, and the US and its allies, which have imposed sanctions and price caps on Russian oil.  

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, India has been one of the biggest swing nations. Mr Modi’s government abstained from United Nations votes to condemn Mr Putin’s war. It also held back from participating in US-led efforts to sanction Moscow, using the opportunity to snatch up cheap Russian oil.

But it has come under pressure from the US and other nations India has aligned with to counter China’s growing assertiveness along its Himalayan border. The US recently approved a package to upgrade the F-16 fighter jet fleet of India’s historic rival, Pakistan, a move New Delhi strongly opposed. 

India also angered Japan by joining the Russia-led Vostok-2022 war games held around a group of islands known as the southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan – a territorial dispute that dates back to the end of World War II.

While India did not take part in the naval exercises, ties have been tested.  

In an editorial earlier in December marking India taking over the presidency of the Group of 20 nations, Mr Modi made a veiled reference to Russia’s war.

The world remains “trapped in the same zero-sum mindset”, Mr Modi wrote in the Times of India newspaper. “We see it when countries fight over territory or resources. We see it when supplies of essential goods are weaponised.” BLOOMBERG

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