India's Modi on visit to Moscow appreciates 'dear friend' Putin

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India's relationship with Russia is based on "mutual trust and mutual respect," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Moscow on Tuesday, where he also said he appreciated President Vladimir Putin's leadership.

Modi was speaking in an address to the Indian diaspora on his first visit to Russia in five years.

His two-day visit coincides with a NATO summit in Washington expected to be dominated by the Ukraine war, although a senior Indian foreign ministry official last week said there was no significance in the timing and Modi's visit was part of a long-standing calendar of summits between the two countries.

"Every Indian considers Russia to be India's friend in good and bad times," Modi said.

"The commitment of our relationship has been tested multiple times, and it has emerged very strong each time," Modi said, adding that he appreciated his "dear friend" Putin for it.

Russia has been India's largest weapons provider for decades and New Delhi and Moscow have had close ties since Soviet times.

The West, especially the U.S., has been seeking to strengthen ties with India as a potential counterweight to an ascendant China in the region.

But New Delhi and the West have taken differing stances on Russia's war in Ukraine.

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it had raised concerns with India about its relationship with Russia.

India has refrained from criticising Russia and has increased its purchases of cheap Russian oil to record levels, while urging Ukraine and Russia to resolve their conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.

Putin welcomed Modi late on Monday, greeting the Indian leader as his "dear friend" and said he was "very happy" to see him, Russia's TASS state news agency reported.

Just before Modi met Putin, at least 41 people were killed in a Russian missile strike on a hospital in Kyiv.

Later, as Modi shared his image hugging Putin on social media platform X, Ukraine's President Volodmyr Zelenskiy said that it was a "huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world's largest democracy hug the world's most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day".

Putin and Modi are scheduled to hold official talks in the Kremlin later on Tuesday, focusing on cheaper energy supplies and deeper economic and strategic ties.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik and Shivam Patel, writing by Tanvi Mehta; editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Barbara Lewis)