NEW DELHI —
Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting India for a one-day annual summit Thursday that will seek to reinvigorate a once-close relationship that has lost some of its spark in recent years. The visit will focus on deepening energy and trade ties.
Out of the dozen or so agreements that New Delhi and Russia are expected to sign, the most significant could be potential deals for joint exploration of oil and natural gas in Siberia.
In an interview to the Hindustan Times, the Russian president said “we expect to secure ourselves the role of a reliable energy supplier to Asian markets.”
On its part, energy-starved India wants to diversify its oil suppliers, which mostly come from the Middle East.
Bharat Karnad, a strategic analyst with New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research, said Russia will seek investment from India.
“They [Russia] need commitments, especially on the oil, investments, increasing Indian oil investments. For Russia, energy sector is their economic driver there. These are the sort of things they are looking for to regain their lost confidence in New Delhi,” said Karnad.
Faced with Western-led sanctions, Russia is turning to Asia for more trade and investment.
And as they prepare for the summit, the allies from the Cold War days are both stressing their commitment to do more business and transform the relationship that has sagged in recent years.
Putin called India a “reliable and time tested partner.”
Indian officials underlined New Delhi’s commitment to its “long standing partner”.
Joint secretary in India’s foreign ministry, Ajay Bisaria, said bilateral trade at $10 billion is “far below potential,” and efforts will be made to increase it.
“India has said clearly it cannot be party to any economic sanctions against Russia. President Putin’s visit is a landmark event and is expected to provide a fresh impetus to the existing excellent bilateral relations between our countries,” said Bisaria.
New nuclear power plants to be built by Russia, an oil and gas pipeline between the two countries, the sale of Russian rough diamonds directly to India for cutting and polishing, and building advanced weapons will be on the agenda.
Observers say Russia is irked that India is increasingly turning to Western suppliers, including the United States, for its military equipment.
India is downplaying such concerns, saying Russia is also New Delhi's primary defense partner and will remain so for decades.
Putin said that the high level of “trust” allows the two countries to make the transition from selling weapons to joint development and production of advanced weapons systems.
Russia also sought to dispel Indian fears on a military cooperation pact Moscow inked with India’s arch-rival Pakistan last month. Russian Ambassador to New Delhi Alexander Kadakin said Moscow will never do anything to harm India’s security interests.
Commentators have noted that Putin's visit comes ahead of another high profile visit - that of President Barack Obama, who comes to India in January as the chief guest for the country’s Republic Day celebrations. That visit is seen is seen as a signal of efforts being made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve ties with Washington.