New figures are at the helm in India. An outside observer might think that some of them have little foreign policy experience. Some may call Narendra Modi’s international relations’ expertise into question.

In reality, Modi and his associates do have foreign policy experience. This experience will guide them toward a balanced policy in which Russia will play one of the key roles.

Narendra Modi has given Russia special attention more than once. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin became only the second foreign politician to be seen by the new Indian prime minister on June 19 (Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the prime minister’s first guest on June 9).

Petr Topychkanov
Topychkanov was a fellow in the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program.
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Last week Narendra Modi met with President Vladimir Putin in the course of the sixth BRICS summit that took place in Brazil. The heads of states discussed the whole spectrum of India-Russia relations, including military-technological cooperation and collaboration on peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Meeting the Russian president and deputy prime minister was not Narendra Modi's first exposure to Russia. In fact, back on June 6, 2001, President Putin and then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed a protocol of cooperation between the Astrakhan Region and the State of Gujarat (Narendra Modi as a member of the Indian delegation at the time). The protocol was renewed in 2006 during the visit of the delegation headed by Narendra Modi to the Astrakhan Region. In recent years, the relations between the Russian region and the Indian state have developed rapidly. Astrakhan and Allahabad became sister cities. In October 2009, Narendra Modi made his third trip to Russia—this time to participate in the International Energy Week.

As for the prime minister’s inner circle, the legendary figure of the National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval looms particularly large. This post cannot fit all of his famous exploits, and many pages of his biography still remain classified. But even the known facts testify to his knowledge of Russia and a long record of cooperation with this country. As a head of the Intelligence Bureau’s operation wing in the 1990’s—the post he had held for ten years, Ajit Doval was involved in organizing the effort to assist Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, which was supported by Russia, India, and Iran. It is clear that he had numerous contacts with the Russian side in the course of the three country’s cooperation on this issue.

The above examples demonstrate that the new Indian authorities know Russia, understand how to work with it and are willing to develop India-Russia relations.

  • Petr Topychkanov