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Prime Minister Modi to embark on 2-day Russia visit from tomorrow


Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A file photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on a two-day visit to Russia on Wednesday for annual summit talks with President Vladimir Putin that is aimed at further expanding the special and privileged strategic ties with a particular focus on nuclear energy, hydrocarbons, defence and trade.

After the talks on Thursday, the two "time-tested" partners are likely to ink a number of pacts in a range of sectors including nuclear energy and defence. The talks between the two countries at the highest level have been taking place alternately in Moscow and New Delhi since 2000.

"We expect to sign a number of agreements covering a very broad range of fields. Final touches are being given on some of them," Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar told reporters in New Delhi.

He said expanding economic ties would be a "very big priority" as the two countries were aiming at enhancing annual bilateral trade to US$ 30 billion over the next 10 years from the current US$ 10 billion.

Besides bilateral issues, Modi and Putin are likely to deliberate on a number of global issues having political dimensions including the situation in Syria and ways to tackle terrorism.

"This would be definitely one of the most important engagements for us," Jaishankar said.

The Foreign Secretary said India was looking at deeper engagement in Russia's oil and coal sector besides stepping up cooperation in some other areas like diamond trade and agro-business.

Energy-starved India, the third largest oil importer after the US and China, has been pushing for greater involvement in major gas and oil exploration projects in Russia. Russia is one of the top oil producers globally and has huge reserves of natural gas.

India is also likely to push for a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Zone and is sharing details of study it conducted in this regard.

Without giving specific details, Jaishankar said both Modi and Putin will deliberate on enhancing cooperation in defence and nuclear energy spheres.

"Russia has been a very major military and strategic partner of India. There will be a lot of discussions on that," he said.

Last week, Defence Ministry's top acquisition council had cleared the purchase of Russian S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems at an estimated cost of Rs 40,000 crore.

Asked whether Russia will strongly back India's bid for a seat at the UN Security Council, he said "Two countries have great confidence and trust in each other. We do not at all doubt Russia's commitment to see India as a permanent member of the UNSC."

On whether India will request Russia to share details on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, he said the issue had figured during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's recent visit to Moscow. "Let's wait and see what happens. I do not prejudge the Russian response till we get it," he said.

It will be Modi's second summit with Putin who was in New Delhi last year for the 15th India-Russia Summit.

On Wednesday, Putin will host a private dinner for the Prime Minister and the two leaders will also interact with a group of Indian and Russian CEOs in Kremlin.

The Prime Minister's engagement in Moscow will also include addressing a gathering of Friends of India and around 3,000 people are expected to attend the event. He will also visit Russia's EMERCOM facility which deals with disaster management.

The "spade work" for the summit talks have been done by the Inter-Governmental Commission and the Military Technology Commission of the two countries which met separately, recently.

When asked about Russia's decision to supply attack helicopters to Pakistan and whether Moscow was getting close to that country sending a message that it was not happy over India's growing closeness with the US, Jaishankar rubbished such interpretation.

"Even a sense of comparison does not make sense to me," he said.

When referred to certain comments by Russian Ambassador in New Delhi, the Foreign Secretary said as an envoy of Moscow, he will have to push that country's interests. "If the Russian Ambassador does not promote Russian aircraft, whose aircraft he will promote? He is doing his job."

On Syria, he said India and Russia, in a broad sense are on the same page, as the two countries want resolution of the crisis through peaceful means. Jaishankar said India does not want forces of religious extremism and fundamentalism to gain ground.

Asked whether India was supplying three Mi-25 helicopters to Afghanistan through Russia, the Foreign Secretary said "Technically these were not Russian acquisition. What you are referring to, I assume anything that we would look at with any country would be something which we would look at from our resources."

After the summit talks last year, it was announced that Russia will build at least 12 nuclear reactors besides manufacturing advanced dual-use helicopters. The two countries had signed 20 agreements in oil, gas, defence, investment and other key sectors.

Queried whether there was resolution on recognition of medical degrees offered to Indian students in Russia, the Foreign Secretary said the issue was still under discussion.

He said both sides will also explore possibility of enhancing people-to-people contacts and boosting tourism.

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