The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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To Russia, with nuclear reactor love
- Manmohan cuts short trip, but Moscow willing to seal agreement

New Delhi, Nov. 7: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is cutting short his two-day trip to Moscow early next week by 12 hours, but Russia is ready to sign a path-breaking nuclear agreement with India during this visit.

According to highly placed sources, the two sides will upgrade the memorandum of intent on nuclear energy co-operation — signed during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India in January — to an inter-governmental agreement.

Anil Kakodkar, the chief of the atomic energy department, will accompany the Prime Minister to Moscow on November 11.

Over the past couple of years, as India and the US negotiated the nuclear deal that has now run into hurdles, Kakodkar built himself a reputation by playing a tough hand. His presence on the Moscow flight signals he is fully on board the Indo-Russian nuclear pact.

The inter-governmental agreement will use the cover of the ongoing nuclear energy co-operation at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu — Russia is building two 1000MW light water nuclear reactors at the site — to sell another four reactors to India. Moscow is keen on going ahead with this agreement despite the cloud over the Indo-US nuclear deal and, therefore, the existing restrictions imposed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Analysts said Putin, aware that the Indian elite were increasingly veering towards the US, wanted to signal a return to the older strategic friendship.

The signing of the nuclear agreement will mark a breakthrough in bilateral relations, recently beset by reports of snubs and protocol breaches.

From stories about foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee being “frisked” at the Moscow airport last month to uncharacteristic changes in Kremlin banquet timings for the Prime Minister — from dinner to late lunch — reports have implied that India’s “special relationship” with Russia was at risk.

Delhi did not officially deny any of the reports, thus signalling a cooling down in ties.

It was speculated that Delhi, single-mindedly focused on the Indo-US deal, was either not interested in Russia or was unhappy over the long delays in the delivery of spares and new equipment ordered for its armed forces, such as the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.

When the Prime Minister decided to cut short his 36-hour visit by about 12 hours — he was to leave Moscow on the morning of November 13, but will now do so the night before — to many it seemed the Russian winter had finally invaded bilateral ties.

However, it now appears that the two scientific establishments have been quietly working towards putting substance in nuclear energy cooperation.

The Russian side had told India when Putin visited in January, as the chief guest for Republic Day, that Moscow would only sell the four additional nuclear reactors for Kudankulam if NSG cleared the Indo-US deal. But things seem to have now moved on.

So when the inter-governmental agreement on nuclear energy co-operation is signed on November 12, after official-level talks in the Kremlin and before a short news conference, Moscow will be signalling it does not need NSG clearance to do so.

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