India-Russia ties boosted by defence, energy deals

Modi and Putin revive Cold War bond with lucrative agreements between two nations

BENAULIM (India) • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a raft of lucrative defence and energy pacts yesterday following talks aimed at reinvigorating ties between the former Cold War allies.

Mr Modi hailed Mr Putin as an "old friend" after their meeting in the Indian state of Goa, where leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) were gathering for a summit.

"Your leadership has provided stability and substance to our strategic partnership," Mr Modi said alongside Mr Putin at a beachside resort, after officials signed up to 20 agreements between the two nations.

"Cooperation in military and military-technical spheres is developing successfully," Mr Putin said. "Russia is not only supplying arms and vehicles, but also is opening joint ventures in India."

The countries, which had strong ties during the Cold War, announced plans for a joint venture to build helicopters in India. Indian military officials have said the plan is to build at least 200 Kamov 226T helicopters needed by the country's defence forces. Hindustan Aeronautics will be the local partner of Russian Helicopters and state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

They also signed an initial agreement on India's purchase of Russia's state-of-the-art S400 missile defence system, capable of shooting down multiple incoming missiles, although there were no details on a timeframe for delivery. The system would strengthen India's defences along its borders with China and Pakistan.

Also agreed were plans to build and supply stealth frigates for the Indian navy. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of the space and military industries, said two frigates could be built in India and two in Russia, the Ria news agency reported.

Mr Rogozin said the ships may later be equipped with missiles manufactured by BrahMos Aerospace, a venture co-owned by the Indian and Russian governments.

Mr Modi said the one-on-one conversation with Mr Putin, held over roughly two hours, would "lay the foundation for deeper defence and economic ties in the years ahead".

He praised Mr Putin and the India-Russia relationship, and said Russia's stance on cross-border terrorism "mirrors" that of India.

The leaders also focused on energy deals to meet India's growing thirst for fuel and electricity for its fast-growing economy. Russia's biggest oil company, Rosneft, signed an agreement to buy India's Essar Oil reportedly for US$13 billion (S$18 billion), in what will be one of the largest foreign investments in India's refining sector.

The leaders also signed a framework agreement to supply more reactors to a nuclear plant in Kudankulam in southern India, which is attempting to reduce its reliance on highly polluting coal for power. Mr Putin said that Russia would be able to build a dozen nuclear reactors in India over the next 20 years to back Mr Modi's growth strategy for Asia's third-largest economy, which continues to suffer power shortages.

A decision on the start of Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement talks involving India would be made by the Eurasian Council in December, Mr Putin said. The union includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Mr Modi was expected to hold talks with China's President Xi Jinping late yesterday, also in the hope of boosting investment and trade. Relations, however, have been frustrated by Beijing's decision so far to block New Delhi's entry to a nuclear trade group, among other issues.

Mr Modi hosted a dinner for the leaders of the Brics club, who arrived yesterday in India ahead of talks today that are expected to focus on trade and terror-related threats.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'India-Russia ties boosted by defence, energy deals'. Print Edition | Subscribe