New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee will land in Moscow on Thursday for a visit that will be replete with symbolism. Mr. Mukherjee is one of an estimated 25 international heads of state and government expected to attend Russia’s victory day parade in the Red Square, commemorating 70 years of the defeat of Hitler’s army.

Mr. Mukherjee’s visit is significant at a time nearly every U.S. ally and European country has decided to boycott the event, a stark contrast from the 50th and 60th commemoration, which was attended by U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Led by President Obama, the Western countries have decided to snub Vladimir Putin for what they see as Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, an event that spurred a series of international financial sanctions against Moscow.

Mr. Mukherjee will also hold a bilateral meeting with Mr. Putin and attend a presidential banquet in honour of the dignitaries who will witness the grand parade on May 9, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Briefing the media ahead of the visit, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, who will accompany the President, called the visit the mark of “a very special and privileged strategic partnership characterised by trust and people to people ties” that exists between India and Russia. The two countries will sign an agreement on cooperation in science and technology and eight MoUs between higher education institutions like the IITs, Institute of Engineering and Delhi University with Russian counterparts. Mr. Mukherjee will be a conferred an honorary doctorate by the Institute of diplomacy in Moscow.

Mr. Mukherjee’s visit is also an affirmation of India’s role in the World Wars as a part of the British imperial army, which was sidelined for decades by Indian governments. However, in recent years, India has begun to acknowledge the role of the 2.5 million Indian soldiers who were part of the war. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the French memorial of Neuve Chapelle, was a step in honouring those who died in World War I, and Mr. Mukherjee, who last attended the Moscow parade in 1995 when he was External Affairs Minister, will honour Indian soldiers who died in World War II, who were decorated by the Soviet government. “Thousands of Indian soldiers died alongside Soviet leaders during the war, and the President is very happy to be a part of this function that is also a walk down memory lane for him,” said the President’s Pres Secretary Venu Rajamony. A 75-member contingent of the nine grenadiers will march along with the Red Army and China’s PLA during the parade which will include about 16,000 soldiers.

Mr. Mukherjee’s visit is also significant given a perceived shift in Indian foreign policy bringing New Delhi closer to Washington after the visits of Mr. Modi to Washington and President Obama to Delhi. At the same time, New Delhi has been worried about overtures by Russia to Pakistan, including offering the Pakistani army military helicopters and proposing joint military exercises. Meanwhile bilateral trade between the two countries has been in decline down from $11 billion to $ 10 billion last year, and Mr. Modi is also expected to address the slowdown in ties with two visits planned in Moscow this year, for the BRICS summit in July and the annual bilateral in November.

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