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India woos Putin with Xmas holiday in Goa

New Delhi, Nov. 16: India has invited Vladimir Putin to celebrate Christmas in Goa before he starts his state visit in end-December, perhaps hoping the holiday will placate a miffed ally.

The Russian President was to visit in early November but cancelled the trip at the last minute, ostensibly because of a back injury.

But while this was the official reason, many felt the former KGB chief postponed the visit because he was upset about the nuclear liability dispute over the Kudankulam nuclear plant, the 2G licence controversy and delays in the delivery of INS Vikramaditya.

Officials in the ministry of external affairs dismiss these “conspiracy theories” and insist Putin postponed the visit because of a bad back. The President, who is 60, goes sky diving, wolf hunting and horse riding and enjoys judo. All this is carefully documented for public consumption.

“The reason he didn’t come to New Delhi had to do with health problems,” a highly placed source said, adding Putin needs surgery for his back problem.

While that might be the case, it is no secret the Russian President is angry about the 2G licence row. Russian telecom giant Sistema holds nearly 57 per cent stake in Sistema Shyam Teleservices Limited, 21 of whose 22 licences were among the 122 the Supreme Court cancelled in February. Moscow has repeatedly requested New Delhi to take care of its interests as there is substantial Russian taxpayer money invested in Sistema.

India’s invite to Putin and his cabinet colleagues to spend Christmas-eve in Goa bears the stamp of soft diplomacy. Sources said Russia is yet to confirm acceptance but hoped he would because Goa is a favourite haunt of tourists from that country. The state also offers opportunities for adventure sports.

Putin normally spends Christmas at home but the invitation would not clash with that because Russia celebrates the festival on January 7, according to the Julian calendar.

Goa gets thousands of Russian visitors every year and many have settled there permanently and started businesses. Morjim village in the north of the state has been christened “Little Russia” by residents because of the number of Russians living there.

In recent years, reports have surfaced of a Russian mafia’s role in real estate, drug trafficking and trafficking of minor girls. The Russian embassy dismisses these as baseless.