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Short trip to Russia with long wish list

New Delhi, Nov. 10: Manmohan Singh’s 24-hour visit to Russia on November 11-12 may be the shortest by an Indian Prime Minister, but the two nations still need each other in an ever-changing world order.

Singh is cutting short his two-day trip to return in time to get ready for Parliament beginning November 15 — although it is the CPM politburo meeting in Delhi on the two days he is in Russia that will be on top of his mind.

Still, in talks on Monday, he will cover the gamut of relations, ranging from the lease of a Russian nuclear submarine to signing an upgraded agreement on the sale of four nuclear reactors to India.

Singh told Russian news agency Ria-Novosti in an interview on the eve of his departure that India and Russia “have a shared destiny…. (We) will continue to work together to shape an equitable international order which reflects contemporary realities.’’

Asked about cooperation in prospective energy resources, he said both countries could cooperate in the development of hydrocarbon resources, of which Russia is a major producer.

He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s definition of energy security as “not just security of supply but also security of demand. India can be a major guarantor for energy demand.’’

Clearly, too, the Prime Minister continues to have the Indo-US nuclear deal on his mind. Pointing to India’s plans to produce 20,000MW by 2020, he said: “International civil nuclear energy cooperation will enable us to augment our nuclear energy production. We are grateful for Russia’s ongoing partnership in the construction of nuclear power units in India.’’

Singh’s trip comes at a time both India and Russia are making new friends and seeking to expand their influence abroad. So even during the short visit, he can get a feel of how Moscow is leveraging old ties — as with Iran — and making new ones, as with the US.

Analysts say India’s growing warmth with the US actually helps Delhi refurbish old ties — such as with Moscow — from a position of strength.

“If India is not on the international high table in the new world order, it is more than likely to be on the menu,” an Indian diplomat said. He said nations like Russia that respect strength will be willing to treat India more seriously.

Apart from signing an inter-governmental agreement on nuclear reactors for Kudankulam, Delhi will push for the lease of an Akula-II class nuclear submarine from Moscow beginning next year. India wants a 10-year lease at $650 million.

India knows that unless the Nuclear Suppliers Group clears the Indo-US nuclear deal, neither the US nor any other western power is likely to sell it any nuclear equipment.

Ironically, with the Americans having pushed the deal so far, it is the Russians who will taste the first benefits.

As a key NSG member, Russia will also ask Singh about the status of the deal. The four new reactors for Kudankulam are only a “supplement’’ to the 1989 Indo-Soviet pact, and Russia can sell many more reactors only when the NSG clears the Indo-US deal.

The two sides will also sign an agreement on “multi-role transport aircraft” that could replace the ageing Antonov and Ilyushin fleets.

The biggest military irritant between the two sides remains over spares for India’s armed forces, 60 per cent of which come from Russia. One solution is that Russia opens a spares depot in India. The two sides have discussed this for a while but a final decision needs to be taken.

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