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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Moscow, his first international trip since beginning his third term in June, is closely watched amid global tensions over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Despite criticism, Modi's engagement with Russian President Vladimir Putin reflects India's delicate balancing act between its strategic partnerships with both Russia and the West.

Modi arrived in Moscow shortly after a tragic bombing in Ukraine, which drew international condemnation. Photos and videos of Modi warmly embracing Putin contrasted sharply with global reactions condemning Russia's actions. The visit coincides with a NATO summit in Washington, where responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine dominate discussions.

Indian officials assert that Modi's trip is a routine part of India's longstanding strategic ties with Russia, downplaying any linkage to the NATO summit. However, concerns voiced by the US State Department underscore the delicate diplomatic terrain Modi navigates. The US urged India to emphasize Ukraine's sovereignty and the UN Charter during talks with Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine expressed disappointment over Modi's visit, criticizing the optics of warmth between Modi and Putin amidst ongoing conflict. In response, Modi reiterated India's commitment to peace in Ukraine, stressing that war is not a solution and expressing sorrow over civilian casualties.

Despite Western criticism and calls for isolation, Putin continues to engage in summit-level meetings with global leaders like Modi, positioning Russia strategically. India's historical defense and energy ties with Russia, coupled with recent economic collaborations amidst Western sanctions, highlight the complexity of India's foreign policy.

While India has diversified its defense procurement from countries like the US, France, and Israel, its reliance on Russian arms remains significant. The visit aims to address bilateral trade imbalances, boost Russian investment in India, and discuss potential disruptions in defense supplies due to the Ukraine conflict.

Modi's visit underscores India's strategic autonomy in navigating complex geopolitical dynamics, balancing between its Western alliances and historical ties with Russia amid global scrutiny and regional challenges. Photo by Prime Minister's Office (GODL-India), Wikimedia commons.