President Vladimir Putin of Russia begins his two-day visit to India on Thursday.
This will be his fourth visit — but this time he will be here as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on Friday, a testimony to Russia’s re-invigorated status in India's strategic calculation. Through the first half of the week, top Russian ministers — Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and chief of the atomic energy agency Sergei Kiriyenko will meet their Indian counterparts in the run-up to the “Manmohan-Putin Summit” on Thursday.
According to Professor Anuradha Chenoy, a Russia specialist at the School of International Studies in New Delhi, there are virtually no outstanding political problems between the two countries, but the talks present an opportunity for India to reconnect with a revitalised Russia. “Putin has brought the state back into the equation in Russia,” she points out, a factor India can take advantage off. She expects the visit to focus on five issues — a north-south energy corridor connecting Russia with India through Iran, energy cooperation in nuclear energy and oil, space and defence cooperation, and trade.
A senior Ministry of External Affairs official says there can be an agreement for the joint development of a 100-seater Medium Transport Aircraft, though the expected deal on a fifth generation fighter design will have to wait. He says there will be movement on another significant project, the “operationalisation” of the 2004 Russia-India agreement on Indian participation in Glonass, the Russian equivalent of the satellite-based GPS navigation system. Indian investment and participation will revive the project, as well as provide its armed forces a tool for precision strike and navigation.
There will be two levels of talks in the energy sector — one between Kiriyenko and Department of Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar in Mumbai, and the other between Indian petro majors and their Russian counterparts. A senior ONGC Videsh official says talks with the Russian gas giant Gazprom were scheduled for early February, so they are hoping to sign an MoU with its oil counterpart, Roseneft. However, he says the Russians are in the process of revising their subsoil law which will insist that Russian firms have the majority stake in any significant oil or gas field. They are unlikely to strike new bargains till the amendment is in place.
As for nuclear energy, Russians will follow the evolving position of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, being shaped by the Indo-US nuclear agreement. “They certainly have the first-mover’s advantage,” said the official referring to the existing cooperation around the Koodankulam project and the Russian supply of fuel to the Tarapur reactors. Chenoy says the area where both countries need to work on is trade, which stands at an “abysmal” $2.5 billion currently. “Putin is bringing a big Russian business delegation,” she said, and it hoping for joint ventures in services and information technology. The Russia Putin will be representing will be different from the one he had done in the past.