New Delhi: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday threw his weight behind India’s quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and secured agreements to deepen nuclear energy and defence cooperation.
Russia has been India’s close economic and political partner since Soviet days, and monopolised India’s defence market for decades, but New Delhi wants to reduce its reliance on one country to reflect its growing clout on the world stage.
India’s growing ties with the United States, underscored by a landmark civil nuclear deal, has made Russia ill at ease.
New Delhi had been expected to seek backing from Russia during Medvedev’s visit for its ambition to secure a permanent seat on an enlarged UNSC, following statements of support from Washington and Paris in recent months.
“The Russian Federation supports India as a deserving and strong candidate for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council,” a joint Russian-Indian statement said.
Leaders from Britain, the United States, France and China - along with Russia, the permanent members of the UNSC - have all visited India in the last six months, securing contracts worth a total of around $50 billion.
Russia and India signed on Tuesday a long-awaited contract to jointly develop fifth generation fighter aircraft, potentially worth tens of billions of dollars, and clinched a deal to expand capacity at a Russian-built nuclear power plant in south India.
The deals announced on Tuesday were largely already known, and no financial figures were given, but the agreements may go some way to satisfy those concerned about India too quickly cutting its defence cord with its Cold War-era ally.
Russia also sees India as a counterweight to China and a potential ally in Afghanistan.
Medvedev, accompanied by a large delegation of business leaders, was holding talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday in New Delhi. He was then to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra and India’s financial capital Mumbai on Wednesday.
“It is well known that we want to diversify our basket of suppliers for our strategic areas. We will always have close ties with Russia, but they are no longer the only game in town,” said a top Indian government official, who declined to be identified.
A statement said the two countries would work on a design project for the stealth fighters and had agreed to discuss building the third and fourth reactors for a nuclear power plant in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Medvedev had been expected to secure a contract on jointly developing 250-300 fifth generation fighter aircraft over 10 years. The contract amount was unknown, but unofficially said to be around $35 billion.
US and European companies are lobbying hard to win contracts for new fighter jets in one of the world’s biggest defence contract markets.
Tuesday’s statement said the two sides had also signed a deal for Russia to supply missiles to the Indian army. No details were given on the size of the deal.
Russia is also keen to continue supplying nuclear technology and expertise to energy-hungry India as it plans to add 63,000 MW of nuclear power by 2032 to support its economic growth.
“Energy is one area where Russia will be the most important partner for India both in terms of conventional and non conventional energy.... Russians are one of our main suppliers of nuclear power plants,” said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian foreign secretary.
Behind the rhetoric of expanding ties with its fellow BRIC economy - the term used to group emerging powers Brazil, Russia, India and China - bilateral trade is eclipsed by Russia’s booming ties with the European Union and China.
The Kremlin said trade with India would total $10 billion this year, while statistics show Russia’s trade with the European Union stood at $246 billion in the first 10 months of 2010, and trade with China was $47.5 billion in the same period.
India and Russia agreed to boost annual bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015.
Medvedev’s stop in Mumbai includes a visit to the Hindi-language movie industry Bollywood.
“(In Russia there is a) 24/7 broadcast of Indian movies. I think that exists only in India and Russia,” Medvedev told a joint news conference with Singh.