PM in Russia for arms and nuclear deals

PM in Russia for arms and nuclear deals

Moscow: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Moscow on Sunday to ink billions of dollars of weapons deals and for talks on a landmark nuclear deal that could significantly widen atomic fuel imports from Russia.

India, along with China, is one of Russia’s biggest clients for arms sales but New Delhi has been upset in recent years by long delays in the delivery of a refurbished Soviet-era aircraft carrier under a $1.6 billion contract.

The signing of arms deals and talks on a civilian nuclear deal to widen uranium fuel deliveries are set to take centre stage in the three-day visit, officials said.

Singh met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for an informal dinner after arrival on Sunday and is also set to meet Russia’s powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin.

“Cooperation in the field of defense has been a very important aspect of our cooperation with Russia," Singh told the Russia Today English-language television channel. “We have been able to get equipment and technologies from Russia which were not available to us from any other countries."

Russia and India, which in October agreed the outlines of a 10-year weapons deal that could be worth at least $10 billion, are building a modern supersonic fighter aircraft invisible to radars like the US F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

Singh may sign weapons orders including a $1 billion deal for 80 Russian Mi-17 helicopters and contracts for fitting Brahmos missiles onto Russian-made Sukhoi fighter planes, Indian officials have said.

Long delays to the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier have soured ties with some of India’s military top brass. In July Medvedev took the rare step of publicly scolding the Russian shipbuilder for the delays.

Cold War Ally

Russia sees India, a Cold War ally, as an important partner whose influence will expand in Asia, though trade lags far behind Moscow’s economic ties with the European Union and China.

Trade rose to $5.1 billion in the first nine months of 2009, though that accounts for just 1.6% of Russia’s external trade, according to Russian state figures.

Indian energy companies including state-run company ONGC have been trying to boost their position in Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer, though it was unclear if any deals would be reached during Singh’s trip.

Russia is seeking to strengthen its foothold on the Indian nuclear market before a deal with Washington gives major US companies access to the Indian market.

The 2005 civil nuclear deal that Singh signed with former US president George W. Bush, ended the long nuclear isolation imposed on India after it tested an atom bomb in 1974.

But several issues need to be cleared up before US businesses including General Electric Co and Westinghouse Electric Co, a subsidiary of Japan’s Toshiba Corp, can compete for billions of dollars in new reactor agreements.

Press Trust of India said India and Russia were set to sign a new civilian nuclear pact that could ensure uninterrupted uranium supplies from Moscow, but gave no further details.

Russia is building nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and plans to build additional plants.