By Krishna N. Das and Nidhi Verma

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A visit to Russia by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expected within days, could help dispel worries that New Delhi is getting too close to the West and further away from Moscow, ceding space to China, analysts said.

No dates have yet been set for the visit, although it has been confirmed by both sides. Indian media said Modi will be in Moscow next week, around the time of a NATO summit in Washington, at which Ukraine will be one of the main issues.

While the West has tried to isolate Putin, China, India and powers in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America have continued to build ties, with official figures showing rising trade with Russia.

“It will be a good opportunity for Moscow to project in the media the image of President Putin receiving a leader of a country like India in the context of the Washington summit,” said Aleksei Zakharov, a Moscow-based expert on India.

“India’s objective is to ensure that Russia is not in China’s corner and that, even if it does not explicitly support India, it maintains a permanent neutrality in the India-China territorial disputes.”

Ties between India and China have been frosty since a deadly border war in 2020.

The leaders of Russia and India have held annual summits since 2000 but the last in-person meeting was in 2021, when Putin visited Delhi.

The next meeting had been due in Moscow in 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, but it did not happen, while Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping elevated their ties, pledging a “new era” of partnership in May.

The two are meeting at a security summit on Wednesday in Kazakhstan, to which Modi has sent his foreign minister.

India has also been seeking to distance itself from its largest arms supplier, Russia, as the Ukraine war hobbled the latter’s ability to supply munitions and spares.

The dearth of Modi’s visits to Moscow had given “rise to speculation that there was some kind of drift in the Indo-Russia relationship,” said analyst Nandan Unnikrishnan, of the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi.

“So I think Modi’s visit will put an end to that kind of speculation,” he said. “And we don’t want to spoil our relationship with any party, whether it’s Russia, the United States, or anyone because of another relationship.”

India’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

At a regular press conference last week, it said, “We have a very well established bilateral summit arrangement with the Russian Federation … and are also preparing to hold the next summit.”

On Tuesday, the Kremlin said deepening trade and economic ties would be a key theme of Modi’s visit which was in the “final stage” of preparation.

Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said regional security and global security issues always figured high on the agenda of such meetings.

India, which has stepped up purchases of Russian oil shunned by the West, is expected to seek a discount higher than the current rate of $3 to $3.5 a barrel during the visit, sources said.

It will also seek formal approval for a unit of Oil and Natural Gas Corp to retain its stake of 20% in the Sakhalin 1 oil project in Russia’s far east.

The unit, ONGC Videsh, and the oil ministries of India and Russia, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

India has also been keen to boost exports of pharmaceutical, machinery and other goods to Russia. Two-way trade jumped 33% to $65.7 billion in the last fiscal year that ended in March, with India’s imports accounting for $61.43 billion.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Nidhi Verma in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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