Focus on New Delhi’s role as Jaishankar heads to Moscow

Amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, 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. There is still no word 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. It 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 trip is seen as a key moment, where Delhi is billed as a potential negotiator between the two sides. He had visited Moscow last time in July 2021.

It is learned that India has intervened quietly in recent months, when there has been a blockade. In July, India had weighed in with Russia on the shipment of grain from ports on the Black Sea.

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Most of these messages were sent quietly, and Delhi positioned itself as a player with credibility on both sides. But, that didn’t always work.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had offered assistance to peace talks in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month. But, Zelenskyy rejected the offer, according to the report.

The report said that according to a statement released by Zelensky’s office, “Zelensky told him that Ukraine did not conduct any negotiations with Putin, but said that Ukraine was committed to a peaceful solution to the dialogue”. The statement noted that Russia has deliberately undermined dialogue efforts, he said.

But, as winter approaches in the conflict zone, there is a sense that both sides want a ceasefire before the beginning of next year, when they can reunite and resume the conflict. Many see this as a potential opportunity for a ceasefire, and Delhi could be a broker between the two sides.

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For Delhi, the bilateral aspect is key. This is the first winter in three years when Russian military supply lines have been disrupted due to the eight-month war in Ukraine, and simultaneously Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a border standoff. in eastern 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 became the largest supplier of crude oil to India in October 2022, as refiners stepped up purchases of discounted marine oil. This added a new element in ties with Moscow, which did not go down well with Ukraine and even Western partners.

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Jaishankar’s visit is expected to look at this aspect as well, and officials said this will be part of his conversation with Manturov, his counterpart for the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation, the IRIGC-TEC.

“Issues related to bilateral economic cooperation obviously, in various fields, will be discussed,” 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 happens next month, Jaishankar will be there to lay the groundwork.

At the time of Jaishankar’s visit, Putin was 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”.


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