NEW DELHI: Will Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin breathe new life into India-Russia ties? As Putin touches down in New Delhi for a 24-hour annual summit, his first with Modi, optimists here hope the two leaders would take decisions to override bureaucratic delay on a number of issues.
Energy and diamonds promise to be the highlights of Thursday's meetings. Modi has abandoned a scheduled Parliament address by Putin for a business-oriented gesture - to visit together a global diamond conference here. After many aborted bids Russia may agree to sell diamonds directly to India. India may finally create what many have demanded for ages - a diamond trading hub in Mumbai to facilitate this trade. Modi had earlier promised Putin when he first met him at the BRICS summit in Brazil that he'd take him to Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu where the second of six planned nuclear reactors is in the final stages before going on stream in 2015. Russia is pushing to build more nuclear reactors in India. Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin said Russia would be willing to build 24. This may be ambitious, if one remembers that the first agreement to build Kudankulam was in 1988, with late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Kudankulam 1 started work in 2013. The two countries are trying to identify a second site for another cluster of nuclear reactors. An earlier site, Haripur in West Bengal, was nixed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. A second site near Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh needs a second seismic study. Russia is the only country which can live with India's nuclear liability law in a bilateral understanding neither side is willing to articulate. Russia no longer dominates Indian foreign policy, "but the greatest asset this relationship has is the high levels of trust between the two governments," says Nandan Unnikrishnan, Russia expert at the Observer Research Foundation. It's this enduring quality that both sides seek to nurture despite the fact that both countries have other fish to fry. "Putin comes to India against continued Western pressure and sanction on Moscow over its Ukraine policy," says Phunchok Stobdan, former diplomat. "It's time for New Delhi to push for big ger items. Only a blockbuster deal like laying a proposed $40 billion long-distance oil and gas pipeline from Russia to India can turn around trade prospects to touch over $100 billion. India needs energy and Russia must counter Western sanctions. It is only energy diplomacy that can replace the waning defence business and bring rationality in India-Russia relations.Not just ONGC but the private sector should grab Rosneft's offers in Siberian oilfields." India will try all it can to keep Russia from falling into the Chinese sphere of influence. Moscow, targeted by the west and with sanctions from the US and Europe, has signed mega gas pipeline deals with China. India will try for a similar energy agreement and sources said preparations are being made for an energy agreement with the private sector. But mostly , Modi will try to gauge the Russian mind about how far it plans to go in its desire to accommodate China. Modi is not likely to harangue Putin on Russia's restart of a defence relationship with Pakistan (in the 1960s too, Russian helicopters were sold to Pakistan). But he will most certainly try to push Putin to relax the regime for business visas from India. It's not surprising that bilateral trade remains modest despite a target of $20 billion by 2015.Indian business remains uninterested in Russia. After the Shyam-Sistema 2G fiasco, Russia, particularly Putin is less interested in business ties with India. Modi's "Make in India" programme intended to move manufacturing to India may clash with Russia's scheme of things. The new defence relationship with Pakistan will certainly figure in talks. Kadakin told scribes: "Never ever will Russia do anything to the detriment to the security of India, a close and old friend." Indian officials will argue that while buying weapons from the US or other countries did not affect Russia's security , Russia selling weapons and aircraft to Pakistan does impact India's security.
10/12/14 The Times of India