NEW DELHI: Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded India as "a great power" on Monday as he arrived in New Delhi to bolster military and energy ties with a traditional ally being courted by Washington, reports AFP.
It is only the Russian leader's second trip abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began -- he skipped both the G20 and COP26 summits this year -- after a June summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva.
India was close to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, a relationship that has endured, with both calling it a "special privileged strategic partnership".
Putin's visit was "hugely symbolic", said Nandan Unnikrishnan from the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank.
"There has been a lot of speculation about the nature of the India-Russia relationship and whether it is fraying because of Russia's closeness with China and India's with the US, but this visit puts all that to rest."
Nonetheless Putin has to contend with complex regional dynamics, with tensions mounting between New Delhi and Beijing, traditionally an ally of Moscow, following deadly clashes in a disputed Himalayan region.
"Russia's influence in the region is very limited," said Tatiana Belousova of OP Jindal Global University in Haryana, "mostly because of its close ties with China and unwillingness to act in dissonance with the Chinese regional interests."
Russia has long been a key arms supplier to India, which is looking to modernise its armed forces, and one of their most high-profile current contracts is for the long-range S-400 ground-to-air missile defence system.
The deal, worth over $5 billion, was signed in 2018 and deliveries have reportedly begun, but it threatens to upend the burgeoning relationship between New Delhi and Washington.
The United States has threatened sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which is aimed at reining in Russia, and the state department said last week that no decisions had been made on any waivers for India.
"Our Indian friends clearly explained that they are a sovereign country and that they will decide whose weapons to buy and who will be India's partner," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.