Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday eloquently described India as "a growing country with brilliant prospects" and honoured two eminent Indian personalities for promoting Russian culture and heritage in this country.
Putin, dressed in a dark suit and sporting a red tie, bestowed the Order of Friendship, one of Russia's highest honours, to eminent Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande and academic and Russia expert Sankar Basu at an elegant ceremony at the Russian embassy.
"India is a growing country with brilliant prospects. We look at what is happening in India with special interest," Putin, the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations, said in his welcome speech.
Underlining cultural kinship between India and Russia, Putin said that the ties between the two countries "go back to ancient time of sage Zarathushtra."
"In recent times, our two people provide support to each other and have shown an outstanding ability to understand cultures of east and west. Intellectual and cultural elites of the two countries have always enjoyed special ties," Putin said.
Putin also spoke warmly about the plan to celebrate the Year of Russia in India in 2008 and the Year of India in Russia in 2009. "These cultural events will add new colour to our public life and help people to understand each other," he said.
The head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, presented an award to Jagdish Chandra Kapur, co-founder of World Public Forum, for promoting a dialogue among civilisations.
"More than a billion people of India, some of them illiterate, know in their hearts that Russia is our best friend," Deshpande, who described herself as a "humble worker of Gandhi," said while accepting the award.
In his speech, Putin praised Deshpande for her "outstanding contribution to promoting Russian language and culture" in India and lauded Basu for promoting "an active dialogue" between the two countries.
Basu, chairperson of the Centre of Russian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, recalled his association with Russia where he studied as a schoolboy when he was ten and subsequently completed his higher studies in Moscow.
"The warmth, understanding and friendship of the Russian people will remain engraved in my memory forever," Basu said.
Putin headed back to Moscow later in the day after a two-day visit that invigorated India's strategic and economic ties with Russia and saw nine agreements in areas ranging from civil nuclear energy and space to technology and commerce.