Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Moscow on Wednesday on a two-day visit during which India and Russia are expected to seal a raft of major deals in defence, nuclear energy and hydrocarbons sectors to further cement their “special and privileged strategic ties”.
Stepping up economic engagement and further expanding ties in strategic areas are likely to be the centerpiece of the 16th India-Russia annual summit talks, which are the second such between Modi and President Vladimir Putin besides deliberating on various global issues like situation in Syria and tackling threat of terrorism.
Setting the tone for the visit, Modi said Russia remained one of India’s “most valued” friends in the world and that he was “very optimistic” about the outcome of the talks with Putin on Thursday.
Modi’s visit to Russia comes at a time when the local economy is under stress because of declining oil prices and Western sanctions. Putin is keen to expand economic ties with India, which, in turn, has been expressing keen interest in participating in oil and gas exploration projects in the Eurasian country.
Energy-starved India, the third-largest oil importer after the US and China, has also been pushing for greater involvement in major gas and oil exploration projects in Russia, one of the top oil producers globally.
“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.”
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’s16th annual summit between the countries.
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.
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.
(With inputs from agencies)