VLADIVOSTOK (Russia) • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would boost ties with Moscow as he met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin's showcase economic forum in the Russian Far East yesterday.
Russia has hosted the three-day forum in its Pacific coast city of Vladivostok since 2015 to boost partnerships with Asian countries amid tensions with the West.
"This is a historic opportunity to give a new impetus to cooperation between our countries," Mr Modi said at the start of talks, after the men toured a naval shipyard.
"Today we are going to sign a declaration... expressing our desire to further increase cooperation," Mr Putin said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also to visit Vladivostok, along with Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
But Mr Putin was spending most of his time yesterday with Mr Modi, who highlighted his ties with the Russian leader in an interview ahead of the forum.
"Our relationship has special chemistry, special ease," Mr Modi told newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
"With each meeting with President Putin, we get closer and our relationship grows."
Mr Modi pointed out that mutual ties also extend to nature, as every year "Siberian cranes migrate to my home state Gujarat".
The Indian leader said he also planned to discuss tiger conservation with Mr Putin, a lover of big cats.
After shaking hands warmly on Mr Modi's arrival, the two men boarded a Russian navy patrol ship and headed to the Zvezda shipyard about 40km across a bay from Vladivostok.
Russia and India are part of the Brics group of major emerging economies - alongside Brazil, China and South Africa - and Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said "increasing mutual investments" and "energy cooperation" would be high on the agenda.
India is a key client for Russia's arms industry and Moscow will be looking to make progress on new deals during the talks.
Trade between the two countries amounted to approximately US$11 billion (S$15 billion) last year.
Moscow and Delhi are also looking at "opportunities to explore hydrocarbons on the continental shelf in the Arctic and the Russian Far East" together, Mr Ushakov said.
Russia and India in 2015 signed a US$1 billion agreement to jointly make Kamov Ka-226 military helicopters, part of the "Make in India" initiative to encourage foreign companies to manufacture their products there. But the deal has been pushed back repeatedly.
A major global arms importer looking to modernise its armed forces, India is keen to produce more on its own soil, and in March launched a joint venture with Russia to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles.
Rostec, the umbrella corporation that controls Kamov, is "hopeful" that the summit can kick-start the helicopter project, its director for international cooperation Viktor Kladov said last week.
"A major push will be made, definitely," he said. "All technical and commercial talks are finished."
India last year purchased the Russian S-400 advanced air defence systems for over US$5 billion, with deliveries to be made by 2023, defying US warnings of sanctions on countries buying Russian arms.