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Modi and Putin talk trade as Ukraine mourns airstrike

July 9, 2024

The Russian and Indian leaders met on the heels of a deadly missile strike on a children's hospital in Kyiv. The US urged Modi to press Putin to respect international law.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin embrace in Moscow
Putin treated Modi to a tour of his stables at his private residence ahead of official talksImage: Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP/picture alliance

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on Tuesday.

Their meeting comes as Ukraine holds a national day of mourning over airstrikes that killed 31 people across Ukraine and injured 154, including many at a children's hospital in Kyiv.

What did the two leaders say?

In televised remarks during the meeting, Modi said that the death of children was "unbearable," and that an end to conflict in Ukraine "cannot be found on the battlefield... We have to find peace through talks."

Modi also noted that Russian manufacturing in India was giving young people jobs, and said he expected their ties to "deepen" in the coming years.

Speaking before Modi, Putin praised the "particularly privileged strategic partnership," between Russia and India, and thanked the prime minister for "the attention you are paying to the most acute problems, including trying to find ways to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, above all by peaceful means, of course."

The pair had embraced before a state dinner on Monday evening. Russian state news agency TASS said that Putin was "very happy" to see his "dear friend."

The meeting is the first state visit between India and Russia since Moscow launched the war in Ukraine in 2022, although Putin and Modi have met on the sidelines of other international events.

India's economy reaps benefits from Russian oil imports

Zelenskyy says Modi Moscow meeting a 'huge disappointment' 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized Modi's visit to Russia , saying it has dealt a blow to peace efforts.

"It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world's largest democracy hug the world's most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day," Zelenskyy wrote in a message on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Zelenskyy's post included pictures of a missile strike that hit a children’s hospital in Kyiv on Monday. 

Russia agrees to discharge Indians fighting in Ukraine

Prime Minister Modi raised the issue of Indians who had been "misled" into joining the Russian army in active combat roles with his counterpart.

"The prime minister strongly raised the issue of early discharge of Indian nationals who have been misled into the service of the Russian army," Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told reporters in Moscow.

An estimated 35-50 Indian nationals, whose families said they were lured to Russia with promises of "support jobs" in the military and were later forced to take up combat roles in Ukraine, would soon be discharged, Kwatra said.

Ukraine war: The plight of Indians trapped in Russian army

India eyes energy deals with Russian companies

India wants to strengthen its energy ties with Russia by seeking deals with Russian energy giant, Rosneft and other leading Russian oil firms.

The South Asian country is pushing for a broader bilateral trade, Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra said on Tuesday.

Modi and Putin have set a target of increasing bilateral trade to $100 billion (€92.5 billion) by 2030 from about $65 billion at present, Kwatra told a news conference after the two leaders met in Moscow.

The two nations aim to eliminate non-tariff trade barriers, a joint statement said. They also want to establish a Free Trade Agreement between the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union and India, the joint statement concluded.

Trade relations between Indian and Russia have flourished, driven mainly by Indian purchases of discounted crude oil amid Western-imposed sanctions due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. India and China are the top importers of Russian crude oil. 

India also refines the crude oil, and sells it to European countries, as Western entities avoid buying from Russia due to numerous sanctions.

Indian Prime Minister Modi meets with Russian President Putin
Trade relations between India and Russia flourish despite Western sanctions against RussiaImage: Sergei Bobylev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP/picture alliance

US raises concerns over Russia-India relations

The US, which shares close ties with both New Delhi and Kyiv, raised concerns about the visit late on Monday, and called on Modi to convey those concerns to Putin. 

"And so we would hope (that) India and any other country when they engage with Russia would make clear that Russia should respect the UN Charter, should respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," a State Department spokesman told reporters.

es,sp/lo (AFP, Reuters)