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Putin lands with N-energy, business on mind

Putin's arrival will recast time-tested ties between a resurgent Russia and India with renewed focus on nuclear energy.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2007 15:39 IST

President Vladimir Putin arrives in the capital on Thursday on a two-day visit that will recast time-tested ties between a resurgent Russia and India with renewed focus on business ties and nuclear energy.

Putin will be chief guest at the Republic Day parade Friday - an honour that will underline India's keen desire to cement traditional ties with Russia which has reinvented itself as an energy power riding high on a nearly trillion dollar economy.

This will be Putin's fourth visit to India and mark the seventh annual summit between the two countries, which signed a strategic partnership agreement seven years ago.

A multi-billion dollar deal on four additional nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu is one of the highlights of Putin's trip. It will signal the first-mover advantage of Russia in enhancing civil nuclear cooperation with India after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) amends its guidelines.

Besides civil nuclear energy, the two countries are expected to ink around eight agreements after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Putin Thursday afternoon.

This will include agreements on setting up a joint venture in the power sector, the purchase of a new generation Mig aircraft, the joint production of a multi-role transport aircraft (MTA), the setting up of a technology transfer centre in Moscow and a pact on operationalising GLONASS, a global satellite-based navigation system.

Putin will meet top business leaders of India the same evening.

He is likely to showcase Russia's attractiveness as an investment destination and signal a relaxation of the visa regime, especially for businessmen - a key hurdle to multiplying bilateral trade from nearly $3 billion to $10 billion by 2010, Russian embassy sources said.

The focus will be on re-energising an old relationship in the context of India's new warming of ties with the US.

Putin's visit could well prove to be a milestone and invigorate the strategic partnership on global issues like UN reforms, counter-terrorism and fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

"In many ways, it's a new Russia. It's time to come out of stereotypes created about Russia by Western commentaries," India's Ambassador to Russia Kanwal Sibal said.

"Russia is now globalising and integrating into the global mainstream. The potential for giving new content to strategic ties and enhancing trade and investment is huge," Sibal underlined.

Agrees Ajai Patnaik, a Russia expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University here:

"We should look at new realities in contemporary Russia. India and Russia could play a key role in reshaping the world order."

Nowhere is the potential more evident than in the area of civil nuclear cooperation where Russia is helping India build two 1,000-megawatt units at the Kudankulam nuclear plant.

Russian atomic energy agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko, who will join Putin's delegation on Thursday, has said that fuel for the first reactor would reach the site later this year.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who arrived in India earlier this week, announced in Bangalore Monday that an agreement will be signed on the construction of additional reactors and also the construction of atomic stations at new sites in India. A declaration of intent on civil nuclear cooperation is also likely to be signed Thursday.

Having known Russia up close, Sibal pointed to Russia's emergence as a major energy power and its huge foreign exchange reserves, estimated to be around $300 billion, to underline a "new convergence of interests" between New Delhi and Moscow.

"Russian-Indian relations give a strategic advantage to both. India's relations with Russia are a critical aspect of India's role in the international political system and have deep domestic implications for both India and Russia," says Anuradha M Chenoy of JNU.

Russia could also be crucial to India's energy security. ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of the Indian national oil major, has invested over $2 billion in the Sakhalin-I oil block in Russia. Moscow is also keen on Indian investment in the Sakhalin III oil and gas project and the development of the Vankor oil and gas fields in Russia's Far East.

In the defence sector, the two countries are poised to move from a buyer-seller relationship to co-production of vital hardware. The two sides will discuss expansion of military ties, including the development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft, when Ivanov meets his Indian counterpart AK Antony on Wednesday.

After watching the Republic Day parade in the heart of the Indian capital, Putin will fly back to Moscow Friday evening.