Informal meetings are clearly the pick of this season. Right after the informal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian PM Narendra Modi is up for an informal summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a seaside resort in Sochi on May 21.

In a surprise, the MEA announced that PM Modi will be informally meeting up with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 21 and that the “date” will be an “important occasion for the two leaders to exchange views on international matters in a broad and long-term perspective”. Well, our PM is up for informal meetings and these back to back dates with international leaders are clearly setting out flavours for the season. To add to it, MEA said that the meeting was a “last minute decision” and was only finalised when NSA Ajit Doval and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale made an unannounced trip to Russia.

If you are already awestruck by this, wait for the destination of the meeting that Modi and Putin have chosen – a picturesque seaside resort in the mesmerising Russian town of Sochi. This meet-up is a surprise because Putin and Modi are already due to meet for the SCO Summit in Qingdao in early June and in South Africa in July for BRICS summit. Both the leaders will also be present at the G-20 meeting in Argentina in November and Putin is expected to visit India for the annual India-Russia summit also in the next few months. What really is up?

While this is seen as a significant visit where India is likely to highlight that it maintains strategic autonomy in foreign policy and has special ties with Moscow, this can mean change in diplomatic winds for India. Most of all, visit to Russia by Indian Prime Minister will certainly be a big boost for President Putin but it will also mean collateral damage to relations with the US, which have already been on trajectory after US’ mild but significant moves like tightening H1B visa rules, among others. While having stronger relations with Russia, a long term friend for India is a good thing, India cannot ignore that Russia is finding itself much closer to China, a big red flag for India. It will only be better for India to pick a side rather than being on a neither-here-nor-there state.

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