Putin eyes arms, nuclear deals with old ally India

Putin eyes arms, nuclear deals with old ally India

Moscow: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin heads to India on Thursday for a visit aimed at tightening the close arms and energy partnerships that Moscow and New Delhi have enjoyed since the Soviet era.

The highlight of the two-day visit is expected to be the signing of several military agreements, including a deal on a Soviet-era aircraft carrier whose troubled history has raised fears over the future strength of relations.

“The signing of a number of concrete documents, including in the military sphere, is expected," Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He declined to provide further details ahead of Friday’s signing.

A spokesman for Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, Vyacheslav Davidenko, confirmed that several arms deals were expected, including on the Admiral Gorshkov, a Soviet-era aircraft carrier sold to India and being refurbished by a Russian firm.

The sale has been marred by a series of price disputes and delayed deliveries, compounding concerns in Moscow that India could be tempted to end its dependence on Russian military equipment.

Russia supplies 70% of India’s military hardware, but New Delhi has in recent years also looked towards other military suppliers, including Israel and the US.

“Putin is keen that pending issues should be resolved," an Indian government official said.

Tatyana Shaumyan, head of the Centre of Indian Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, said that for the visit to be successful, Russia would have to iron out all remaining sticking points related to the sale of the Admiral Gorshkov.

“We need to think really hard about how we can honour our obligations," Shaumyan said.

Russian business daily Vedomosti, citing a defence ministry official and a source close to Rosoboronexport management, has reported that officials hoped to sign three military agreements worth some $4 billion (Rs18,560 crore).

These were for the refurbishment of the Admiral Gorshkov, worth $2.35 billion; a $1.2-billion contract to sell India 29 MiG-29 carrier-based fighters; and a deal to jointly develop a transport aircraft, said the report.

An official with state aircraft holding United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) confirmed that UAC and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd planned to sign a deal to create a “new joint venture" to develop the transport aircraft.

Russia and India have already pledged to commit $300 million each to the project.

An agreement in the nuclear energy sphere was also planned, Peskov said.

Russia is building two nuclear power units in Tamil Nadu and has agreed to install four more nuclear reactors there as part of an agreement signed during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India in 2008.

The strong ties between Moscow and New Delhi date back to the 1950s after the death of Stalin. But India has in recent years also taken care to balance this friendship with close ties to the US.

Trade turnover between the two countries, nevertheless, remains minuscule and economic ties are modest.

Putin, who last visited India as Russian president in 2007, is set to meet his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil.

Peskov said a separate meeting is planned with Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress.