MOSCOW: On Monday, as Moscow experienced its first real snowfall this winter, relations between India and Russia experienced more than a thaw, on a range of interests encompassing nuclear trade, shared Af-Pak perceptions and a plan to boost commerce to $20 billion by 2015.
The discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Sunday evening and at their more formal meeting on Monday gave what is seen to be a much-needed push to bilateral ties. The process is expected to be consolidated during Singh's meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Medvedev and Putin are slated to visit India next year, with the latter expected sometime in March.
The Singh-Medvedev meeting yielded a rich cache of agreements which included establishing a credit line of $100 million and a nuclear agreement that is expected to provide momentum to India's nuclear trade. Singh said there would an addition to the two reactors being developed at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu while a site was being considered at Haripur in West Bengal.
Medvedev stressed that Russia did not support any addition to the club of N-weapon states, which has implications on the country's position in Iran, and that N-weapons should not be ``held hostage to terror'', in a fairly direct reference to Pakistan. Though Singh did not refer to Pakistan, he echoed his host's views on a stable Afghanistan with a stable sense of nationhood.
The easy use of phrases like "most rewarding", "a major step in our ties" and "trust and confidence" indicated a genuine meeting of minds as did the assertion that India-Russia trade would touch $20 billion by 2015. Medvedev also made it clear that the G8 statement at La Aquila did not impact on ENR (enrichment and nuclear reprocessing) related agreements with India.
The nuclear agreement with Russia was stressed by both leaders and Department of Atomic Energy chairman Srikumar Banerjee later told mediapersons that fuel guarantees, upfront clearances and, importantly, cooperation in research were important takeaways. Defence and military agreements, supply of spare parts and active cooperation in intelligence sharing augur well for the relationship.
Medvedev said his conversation with Singh was not merely an exchange of impressions but a really "full and substantial" discussion that embraced several interests. Singh said that apart from issues like security and N-trade, he had a "very pleasant discussion" on India's participation in Russia's pharma sector.
The continuing global slowdown and a decline in oil prices have made Russia more open to reaching out to an old friend while the change of guard in US has seen India reaffirm ties, with Singh describing Russia as a "global world power" at a joint press conference on Monday. The two nations also share concerns over the rise of China.
With the meeting with Medvedev having set the mood, Singh's interaction with Putin, still very much the "real" power centre in Moscow, is expected to see a detailed exchange of assessments. Putin and Singh will also address a conference of CEOs to be attended by Indian biz honchos. The easing of credit is seen to address a long-pending irritant as banks have tended to rate Russia's risk status on the higher side.
The two sides signed a total of six agreements but the Russians were clearly pleased with the civil nuclear cooperation pact. The reactors, which cost about $1.5 billion each, will certainly be welcome for a Russian economy that is simply not doing too well. Banerjee told mediapersons that the site would most probably be offered to the Russians once land clearances were obtained from West Bengal government.
Banerjee also spoke of India's plans for 10,000mw capacity which would be a mix of reactors built by foreign suppliers and indigenous 700mw pressurised heavy water reactors. "The current uranium reserves we have allow us to support 10,000mw," Banerjee said. Eight 700mw PHW reactors were being planned at present that would account for 5,600mw.
There was some good news on the uranium supplies front as potentially minable deposits had been found in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The site in Meghalaya was still affected by environmental issues that were being sorted out. These could improve the uranium availability while India could also consider using foreign sources fuel for safeguarded reactors.