News / Asia

Russian Prime Minister Making Brief, Important Visit to India

Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is expected to discuss several bilateral issues during a brief visit to India.

The Russian prime minister is no stranger to India. He visited four times during his eight-year presidency.  In his first visit as prime minister he will be accompanied by government ministers, defense contractors and business executives.

Russia is trying to maintain its position as the top weapons supplier to India, despite the South Asia country's warmer defense ties with the United States.   

India's former foreign secretary, Lalit Mansingh, tells VOA Mr. Putin deserves credit for restoring the strong ties of the Soviet era that unraveled during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin.

"We got the distinct impression that Yeltsin's advisors were telling him to abandon India, India was of no strategic consequence to Russia," Mansingh said.  "I think Putin rectified that when he came in 2000, and since then the relationship has improved considerably in many areas. So whether he is president or prime minister he is still the most important political figure in Russia."  

During Mr. Putin's 21-hour visit, India and Russia are expected to sign an additional contract concerning the contentious sale of a used Russian aircraft carrier to the Indian navy.

In 2004, the two countries agreed on a purchase price of about $950 million for the Admiral Gorshkov.  The Russians twice significantly revised the price, saying they had underestimated the cost of retrofitting the 273-meter vessel.  

Media reports here say Moscow and New Delhi have now agreed on a price tag of $2.3 billion.

The Gorshkov, to be renamed INS Vikramaditya, is to replace India's only aircraft carrier, the Viraat, which was originally commissioned as the HMS Hermes for the British Royal Navy in 1959.   

Other deals, also worth billions of dollars, are expected to be signed for sales to India of MiG-29 fighter jets and nuclear reactors.
   
Despite the recent civil nuclear deal between New Delhi and Washington, veteran diplomat Mansingh predicts Russia will play a dominant role in supplying technology and equipment to help fuel India's booming economy.  

"The Russians will be our most important energy partner, both in the conventional field and in the non-conventional area," Mansingh said.

The two countries signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow in December.

The two countries already have agreements for construction of four nuclear reactors in addition to a pair of Russian units being built in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Diplomats say they expect regional security, including the situations in Afghanistan and Iran, will also be discussed between the two prime ministers during their official talks.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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