Russia offered to help India set up at least 10 more nuclear reactors and manufacture light-utility helicopters in line with the Make in India campaign as the two countries stepped up their defence and strategic partnership during President Vladimir Putin’s visit on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Russia would remain India’s most important defence partner and its “unique place in India’s foreign policy will not change” as he laid out a roadmap for stronger energy and business ties between New Delhi and Moscow at their 15th annual summit.
As India and Russia sought to strengthen a once-close relationship, the two countries signed 20 agreements including a contract to implement the third and fourth reactors of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant and a joint investment fund of $1 billion for Indian infrastructure and hydroelectric projects. Other strategic deals covered oil supply, infrastructure and an increase in direct diamond sales to India by Russian firm Alrosa.
“Even as India’s options have increased today, Russia will remain our most important defence partner,” Modi said after the summit. “Russia has offered to fully manufacture in India one of its most advanced helicopters. It includes the possibility of exports from India. We will follow up on this quickly.”
HT was the first to report that Russia would join Modi’s first big-ticket ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector.
The agreements reflected Russia’s need for allies in the face of Western sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Though India’s defence cooperation with other countries is expanding, 60% of defence purchases still come from Russia. However, India plans to bring down its dependence on foreign vendors and increase indigenisation of the defence sector as part of the Modi government’s Make in India initiative.
For the chopper deal, public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or an Indian private firm could partner for the production of Kamov 226 T helicopters in India as bidding for these reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters is restricted for Indian firms and their joint ventures.
In the first phase, the order could be for 384 helicopters, which could subsequently be increased to 600 to replace the ailing Cheetah/Chetak fleet used by the Indian Army and air force.
The total cost of the project is expected to be over $3 billion.
Modi has also proposed that Russia should manufacture spares and components of Russian defence equipment, a request Putin responded to positively.
Like the defence sector, Russia also aligned nuclear cooperation with Make in India as the two leaders unveiled an ambitious nuclear energy plan to build at least 10 reactors. “It will also include manufacture of equipment and components in India. This also supports our Make in India policy,” Modi said. “Our partnership and the strong sensitivity that we have always had for each other’s interests will be a source of strength to both countries,” the Prime Minister said.
Putin said Russia could eventually supply India with 20 nuclear reactors.
“We highly appreciate the friendship, trust and mutual understanding with Indian partners,” said Putin.