Defence in focus as Putin meets Modi on Thursday

SansadTV Bureau

File Photo (PTI)

Expansion of ties in a range of crucial sectors like nuclear energy, hydrocarbons and defence will be in focus when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi deliberate at the annual summit held at New Delhi on Thursday with an aim to further strengthen the already close strategic partnership.

In his talks with Modi, both in restricted and delegation level formats, Putin is likely to seek deeper economic engagement with the “time-tested” ally to negate affect of sanctions against Russia by the US and its Western allies over the Ukraine issue.

Both sides are looking at inking 15-20 pacts following the summit which has been taking place since 2000 alternately in Moscow and New Delhi.

Ahead of his visit, Putin termed ties with India as “privileged strategic partnership” and said construction of new nuclear plants besides military and technical cooperation was high on the agenda for talks. He said Russia was keen to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to India and involve ONGC in oil and gas hunt in the Arctic.

Energy-starved India, which is the third largest oil importer after the US and China — has been pushing for greater involvement in major gas and oil exploration projects in Russia and both the leaders are set to discuss the issue.

Russia is one of the top oil producers globally and has huge reserves of natural gas.

In the nuclear energy sector, Russia may offer to set up a total of 20-24 nuclear energy production units in India against previously agreed 14-16 plants. Both sides are also likely to come out with a roadmap for cooperation in the overall energy sector.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin said the two countries will start negotiations for setting up of units five and six at the Kudankulam nuclear power complex soon and may sign a technical pact for units 3 and 4 during Putin’s stay.

Russia was awaiting India’s decision to allot a site for construction of a new Russian-designed nuclear power plant and the issue may figure in the talks.

Putin will be accompanied by around 15 business tycoons from Russia and both Modi and the Russian President are expected to jointly interact with CEOs of major companies from both the countries as enhancing trade ties will be a major item on the agenda of the summit.

The volume of bilateral trade was USD 10 billion in 2013 and both sides feel there was “huge opportunity” to improve it significantly. India has been working to have a trade pact with “Eurasian space” for improved trade and commerce which will also improve trade with Russia.

India’s exports, particularly food items, to Russia have gone up since sanctions were imposed against that country by Western nations for its interventions in the crisis in Ukraine.

India has been maintaining that it cannot be party to any economic sanctions against Russia.

Both the leaders are likely to discuss improving supply of rough diamonds by Russia to India. Russia is the world’s top producer of rough diamonds and India is one of its largest importers.

In the defence sector, Putin may push for larger procurement of military hardware from Russia by India. Russia has been a major defence supplier to India and its share has been 60-70 per cent in the country’s import of military hardware.

Sources said specific discussions are likely to take place on various key projects including the envisaged gas pipeline linking Russia with India and the ambitious Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) programme.

Listing the joint strategic projects, Putin said these included construction of new units for Indian nuclear power plants, promotion of Russian Sukhoi superjet-100 and MS-21 passenger aircraft to Indian market besides manufacturing of helicopters and creating a “smart city” on the basis of Russian technology.

It will be the first annual summit meeting between Putin and Modi.