Putin in India with eyes on arms, trade deals

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New Delhi: Visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to tighten defence ties with India and double trade within three years, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for talks on Monday.

Accompanied by several senior ministers and military officials, Putin was making a one-day trip to India, a traditional Russian ally which he had not visited since resuming the presidency in May.

“President Putin and the Indian prime minister have met and will be signing the agreements soon,” said an official in the prime minister’s office without giving details of the pacts.

India is now the world’s largest arms importer and Russian-made military equipment accounts for 70 percent of its arms supplies.

“I would like to stress that deepening of friendship and cooperation with India is among the top priorities of our foreign policy,” Putin wrote in an article for The Hindu newspaper before his visit.

Graphic showing the worlds biggest importers and exporters of arms, with India as largest importer © AFP Graphic

But while Russia once had a virtual monopoly over India’s arms market, New Delhi has been shopping around of late and the visit is seen in Moscow as a chance to regain lost ground and develop joint projects.

“The strategic nature of partnership between India and Russia is witnessed by the unprecedented level of our military and technical cooperation,” Putin wrote, saying “the joint development of advanced armaments rather than just purchasing military products” would be key to future relations.

His comments echoed those of Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid who said Friday that “India is committed to strengthening and enhancing this relationship, both on economic and strategic ties”.

Likely tie-ups are expected to involve Russia’s Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer, including a $3.77 billion deal for 42 Su-30MKI fighters and a deal to produce the fifth-generation Sukhoi fighter — a joint Russia-India project, according to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade.

Moscow has been worried recently by New Delhi’s increasing preference for Western suppliers, especially after Boeing was chosen last month over Russia’s Mil plant for a major helicopter contract.

Russian-made Sukhoi SU-30MKI takes off from an airstrip in Bareilly, on June 7, 2010 © HO/AFP/File

India has also been unhappy about delays to deliveries of some naval equipment, notably the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which is being refurbished for the Indian Navy at Russia’s Sevmash naval yard.

Russia was originally to deliver the upgraded vessel in August 2008, but the date has now been pushed back to the end of 2013, while the price has more than doubled to $2.3 billion.

According to Indian figures, bilateral trade has been growing steadily and is expected to reach around 10 billion dollars in 2012, up from 7.5 billion in 2009.

Putin set out a goal of doubling trade in just three years.

“Our trade turnover has overcome the consequences of global crisis, and in 2012 we expect to reach record numbers, over $10 billion. Our next goal is to reach $20 billion already by 2015,” he said.

The foreign ministry changed the venue of Monday’s talks due to violent protests in central New Delhi following the gang-rape of a student that has caused widespread public outrage.

Russia and India are both so-called BRICS, the bloc of emerging powers which is seeking to act as a counterweight to Western powers and which also includes Brazil, China and South Africa.

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