A 50-member Indian business delegation starts a four-day visit to Russia Monday as both countries seek to deepen economic ties that have grown in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
India and Russia are also in talks for a free trade deal, ministers from the two countries said earlier this week during a visit by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov to New Delhi.
In recent months, Moscow has become India’s largest supplier of crude oil as sanctions-hit Russia seeks more trade with Asian countries.
New Delhi has not joined U.S-led Western sanctions on Moscow or condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outright but has been calling for a negotiated resolution of the conflict.
It is also continuing to step up its economic engagement with Russia despite Western calls to gradually distance itself from Moscow.
The Indian business delegation headed to Russia is expected to meet buyers in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“We see opportunities in Russia and that is why we put together this delegation. It is going to explore markets in food and agricultural products,” Ajay Sahai, director general of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations told VOA.
He said that the aim is to double Indian exports to Russia to about $5 billion this year.
Trade analysts say India is trying to step up its exports to Russia to bridge a trade deficit that has become huge as New Delhi’s crude oil imports from Moscow rise exponentially.
While India’s imports from Russia have jumped fourfold to over $46 billion since 2021, its exports to Moscow add up to less than $3 billion.
But as Russia’s trade with the West dries up, it has been seeking products from India, including manufactured goods, electronics devices and automobile components.
“It is a windfall situation. We are getting discounted oil which is a huge advantage for India. Compared to virtually nothing prior to the Ukraine invasion, India’s crude oil imports have risen to over a million barrels of oil per day from Russia,” Manoj Joshi, distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation told VOA. “And now that they are under sanctions, India sees an opportunity in promoting exports also, so that will be a double advantage.”
Russia, India’s Cold War ally, was its largest defense supplier for decades. Even though New Delhi has strengthened strategic partnerships with the United States and other Western countries in the last two decades, it maintains close ties with Moscow.
Addressing a business forum with Manturov on April 17 in New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar called the India-Russia relationship among the “steadiest” in global relations, and said that the partnership is drawing attention not because it has changed but because it has not.
Jaishankar said Russia’s resources and technology can make a powerful contribution to India’s growth as Moscow is looking more toward Asia.
“We are looking forward to intensifying trade negotiations on a free trade agreement with India,” Manturov, who is also Russia’s industry and trade minister said.
Indian exporters however say that issues such as logistics, market access and payment difficulties pose a challenge. “The opportunity is there to grow trade, but only time will tell how far we can exploit it,” Sahai said.
While Western countries want India to decrease its reliance on Russian imports to isolate Moscow over the Ukraine war, New Delhi has remained firm in maintaining its economic engagement with Russia.
“India’s message to the West is clear. We will pursue a relationship in our self-interest and we will go wherever our interests take us,” Joshi said.
“Yes, the West would like India to pressure Russia by not buying oil from them, but they have reconciled to the position that New Delhi has taken,” he said.