The Telegraph
Thursday , July 17 , 2014
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Modi stays on Moscow side

Putin and Modi in Brasilia on Wednesday. (AP)

New Delhi, July 16: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured Russian President Vladimir Putin that India will continue to oppose western sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine, and has set up a date for a December photo opportunity that Washington will watch closely.

Modi asked Putin to travel to the Kudankulam nuclear plant — where Russia has already supplied two reactors and has promised four more — when the Russian President visits India this December for the annual strategic dialogue between the nations.

A visit to Kudankulam by Putin, who agreed to Modi’s suggestion, will help India demonstrate to the US — which unlike Russia is refusing to accept the Indian nuclear liability law — that reluctance by American companies will not hold back India’s civil nuclear programme.

Modi and Putin spoke late night on Tuesday in Brazil’s Fortaleza at a hurriedly rescheduled meeting after bilateral talks had to be put off on Monday evening because of a scheduling goof-up — one of several that have blighted the Prime Minister’s first transatlantic trip.

The short, 40-minute conversation, which yielded India the Kudankulam date with Putin and reassured Russia about India’s tilt towards it over Ukraine, was the most informal Modi has had so far in Brazil, where the heads of government of the BRICS nations are meeting, officials told The Telegraph.

Tired after a day when he chose to deliver four separate addresses to the BRICS grouping in English — a language Modi is comfortable with but which is not his preferred tongue — the Indian Prime Minister switched to Hindi for his late night conversation with Putin. He had spoken in English while meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

Aap 100 crore se zyada humare logon se poocho, ki kaun hamara sabse nazdeek dost hain, to har vyakti, har bachcha jaanta hain ki Russia hai (If you ask anyone among the more than one billion people living in India who is our country’s greatest friend, every person, every child knows that it is Russia),” Modi told Putin, Indian and Russian officials independently confirmed.

Russia, Modi said, had stood by India at its toughest moments — such as when it faced sanctions from the West after nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998. Putin returned the favour, recalling Modi’s visit to Russia as chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. “We know that you are a great friend of our country,” Putin said.

For Moscow, Modi’s reassurance of continued support over Ukraine represents the most important take-away from the meeting, a Russian official told this correspondent.

The Manmohan Singh government had rejected sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union against Russia after Moscow’s troops earlier this year entered the Crimean peninsula — then a part of Ukraine. Then national security adviser Shivshankar Menon had said Russia had “legitimate interests” in Crimea.

But Russia, the official said, is convinced that the US will try to nudge the new Indian government under Modi to take a stand critical of Moscow’s intervention in Crimea.

“We hope that doesn’t work,” the official said. “And Tuesday’s meeting suggests it may not.”