Modi looks for stronger ties with friend-in-need Russia

  • Viju Cherian, Hindustan Times, Moscow
  • Updated: Dec 23, 2015 17:34 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at AFS Palam in New Delhi on Wednesday before his departure for Moscow. (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the tone for his summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, describing Moscow as an all-weather friend who backed Delhi during difficult times.

Modi is arriving in Russia at a time when the local economy is under stress because of declining oil prices and Western sanctions. Russia’s decision to snap of ties with one of its biggest business partners Turkey, after Ankara downed a Russian Su-24 in Syria, has also opened the field for India.

Energy-starved India, 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, one of the top oil producers globally.

Modi is expected to land in Moscow around 5 pm local time (7.30 IST) on a two-day visit and is scheduled to attend a private dinner hosted by Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo, his dacha or country house about 27 km from Moscow, the only official event of the day.

“Indians will never forget the Russian support that we got when we needed it the most,” Modi told Itar-Taas news agency ahead of his visit, referring to the former Soviet republic’s defence supplies and international support when few were willing to hold Delhi’s hands.

Modi repeated the sentiments in a tweet hours before leaving for Moscow: “Am very optimistic about outcomes of my Russia visit. It will deepen economic & security ties with a valued friend.”

Read: My political journey identical to Putin’s, Modi tells Russian media

India and Russia are likely to ink a number of pacts in a range of sectors including defence and nuclear energy during the visit, the high point of which will be Thursday’s 16th annual summit between the countries.

File photo of Prime Minister Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ufa, Russia. (REUTERS)

Assuring Russia that it will remain India’s “principal partner” in the defence sector, Modi also said that the two strategic partners are working together for joint manufacture of advanced military equipment in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

“Russia has been India’s foremost defence partner through decades, accounting for a majority of our defence equipment...Even in the current environment, despite India’s improved access to the world market, Russia remains our principal partner,” Modi said.

India’s assurance to Russia comes at a time when it has developed closer defence ties with the US and Russia made overtures to Pakistan in recent months for the first time.

Read: As PM Modi visits Moscow, it’s time to move past the nostalgia

On the civil nuclear cooperation, Modi said India is committed to construct at least 12 nuclear power plants having highest safety standards in the world with Russian assistance.

Modi is expected to visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin, on Thursday morning. The tomb, a war memorial for soldiers killed during World War II, holds a special place in Russia’s history and Modi visiting the site will be of great significance.

“The visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a sign that the relationship between Russia and India goes beyond arms trade,” said Sergey Strokan, political commentator for Kommersant and editor-in-chief, Russia-India Perspective.

Modi will later meet CEOs and business heads from both India and Russia and later interact with members of the Indian community in Russia.

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