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March 09, 2010

Russia's Putin to India for First Time as PM

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is heading to India on Thursday for the first time in his capacity as prime minister, instead of president.  Experts say his visit is aimed at strengthening existing military and energy ties between the two countries.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives Thursday in India for a two-day visit.  

Experts say he hopes to tap into India's growing energy and defense needs, both of which are being fueled by its prospering economy and its desire to modernize its military.

Moscow and New Delhi have enjoyed close ties since the Soviet era and Russia sees India as an important partner whose influence will expand in Asia.

Pavel Felgenhauer is a Russian political and military analyst.

Felgenhauer says Putin's visit is mostly about military aspects.  He says Russia and India also share many similar interests and views.  For example, stability in central Asia.  He says India was a serious ally of the Soviet Union.

Last year, Russia and India agreed to the outlines of a 10-year weapons deal that could be worth at least $10-billion.  They are also building a modern supersonic stealth fighter aircraft.

Again Russian military and political expert Pavel Felgenhauer.

He says that Russia remains India's major supplier of arms and military technology.  Felgenhauer says most analysts are also expecting the final deal on the aircraft carrier Russia has been putting together for many years.

The soviet-era aircraft carrier the Admiral Gorshkov was sold to India, but is being refurbished by Russia.  The Gorshkov sale has been marred by difficulties, including pricing disputes and delayed deliveries, leading many analysts to wonder whether India could be tempted to reduce its dependence on Russian military equipment by doing more trade with the United States.

The director general of the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, Narendra Sing Sisodia, says Russia will remain a reliable trading partner for India.

"We still have very strong cooperation in the nuclear field with the Russians.  We are also getting submarines and aircraft carriers from them," Sisodia said.  "So it is a signal that the Russians are completely committed to this ongoing relationship.  I think Russia is very critical in the context of the fact that we are surrounded by other neighbors who may not be exactly that friendly.  So this kind of a relationship with the Russians is, I think, strategically very important," said Sisodia.

Leaders of both countries are also expected to establish a strategy on Afghanistan, critical to their own security.

Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Anuradha Chenoy says the talks will focus on the situation in Afghanistan, but will also extend to global issues including climate change.

"Major issues in the international security system today are the economic crisis, the financial crisis, the climate crisis and the security crisis and in all these the position India takes, very often, they can coordinate very well with Russia and I think there will be talks about all these issues with Russia," said Chenoy.

Both countries are also expected to try and boost bilateral trade as neither has made a significant presence in the other's markets.  India's state-run energy company, ONGC, has been trying to augment its position in Russia, which is the world's largest energy producer.

Jawaharal Nehru University post-graduate student Isha Dubey says maintaining ties with Russia is important for her country.

"I think Russia has always been favorable towards the Indian scene, in Pakistan or she has always favored us, helped us through the defense department.  So it is pretty important that we keep the strategic ties friendly and amicable," said Dubey.

During his trip to Russia last year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed other countries would never sacrifice India's relationship with the Kremlin.

Russia and India, together with Brazil and China, are part of the so-called BRIC grouping of major developing economies trying to promote a multi-polar world not dominated by the United States.