As India presses its neutrality in the war in Ukraine, the Indian foreign minister sought to reinforce its diplomatic and economic ties with Russia ahead of his expected meeting on Wednesday with President Vladimir V. Putin.
From the start of Russia’s war, India has taken a neutral stance, citing its longtime ties with Moscow and insisting on its right to navigate a multipolar world its own way.
Russia has long been the most important military supplier for India, and as international sanctions in response to the war began constricting Russian oil sales, India rapidly expanded its purchases to become one of the chief buyers of discounted Russian petroleum. In doing so, India has frustrated American efforts to isolate Russia since the war began in 2022, providing a much-needed financial boost to Moscow’s coffers.
India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who met with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, said that he would discuss “the state of multilateralism and the building of a multipolar world order.”
“We will focus on bilateral cooperation in different spheres, adjusting it to changing circumstances and demands,” Mr. Jaishankar said, according to a Russian video broadcast. “We will discuss the international strategic situation, conflicts and tensions where they are.”
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Wednesday that his country’s relationship with India goes beyond bilateral ties. The two nations are interested in “building an international political and economic system that would be open and fair for everyone,” he said in televised remarks ahead of the meeting.
Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to make supporting Russia costly, American officials have avoided open criticism of India. Instead, President Biden and others have courted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeing India as a potential ally to counter China’s rising economic and military influence. That courtship has continued even after American law enforcement officials accused Indian officials in November of plotting the assassination of an American Sikh activist in the United States.
After meeting with Mr. Jaishankar for over an hour, Mr. Lavrov praised India’s “responsible approach” to global issues, which he said extended to its position on Ukraine. He said the two men had spoken about the war but did not elaborate, noting that it was one of several issues including arms production and nuclear energy cooperation that were discussed.
New Delhi is heavily reliant on Russia for the largest part of its arms imports and Moscow has helped India to build nuclear and space capabilities from scratch.
The Kremlin said that the Indian foreign minister, who is halfway through a five-day visit to Russia, would see Mr. Putin on Wednesday evening — underscoring the importance for Moscow of the India-Russia relationship.
A career diplomat, Mr. Jaishankar has portrayed the close relationship between the countries as one of the few constants in a rapidly changing world. His book about how India must carefully chart a multilateral diplomatic path is seen as a definitive take on the country’s foreign policy under Mr. Modi.
“Typically, defense, nuclear and space are collaborations you only do with countries with whom you have a high degree of trust,” Mr. Jaishankar had told members of the Indian diaspora in Moscow on Tuesday.
But the relationship shows signs of strain. Indian officials are increasingly worried that Russia’s pariah status will drive Moscow ever closer to China. On another potential competitive front, all three countries are more forcefully portraying themselves as providing leadership and a model for developing nations around the world.
In a reflection of how India is trying to walk the line between Western pressure and its relationship with Russia, this is the second year in a row that Mr. Modi has skipped his traditional in-person summit meeting with Mr. Putin.
Happymon Jacob, who teaches Indian foreign policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that apart from India’s increased purchases of Russian oil, the relationship had been less close since the Ukraine invasion.
Still, he said, India will remain reliant on Russia to some degree, particularly in the energy and defense sectors.
“Russia is the only country that has provided India with nuclear reactors — notwithstanding the fact that India signed a nuclear deal in 2008 with the United States,” he said.
During Mr. Jaishankar’s visit on Tuesday, India and Russia agreed to the construction of future power-generating units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in southern India, which is being built with assistance from Russia. Construction on the plant began in March 2002. It is expected to start operating at full capacity in 2027.
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.