Putin in India with eyes on arms, trade deals

AFP , Monday 24 Dec 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledges to tighten defence ties with India and double levels of bilateral trade within three years

Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the media, at the end of the EU-Russia summit, at the European Council building in Brussels ( Photo: AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in New Delhi on Monday to tighten defence ties and boost trade with India, a traditional ally and one of Russia's top clients for arms sales.

Accompanied by several senior ministers and military officials, Putin was due to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the day-long visit, his first since he returned to the presidency in May.

India's foreign ministry changed the venue of the meeting due to violent protests in central New Delhi following the gang-rape of a student that has caused widespread public outrage.

"We had to change the venue due to security concerns. President Putin will be meeting the prime minister at his residence and not in Hyderabad House," a foreign ministry official told AFP.

Hyderabad House, the regular scene of diplomatic talks, has been cordoned off after thousands of protesters poured into the heart of the capital over the weekend.

India is now the world's largest arms importer and Russian-made military equipment accounts for 70 percent of Indian arms supplies.

"I would like to stress that deepening of friendship and cooperation with India is among the top priorities of our foreign policy," Putin wrote in an article for The Hindu, an Indian daily, ahead of his visit.

But while Russia once had a virtual monopoly over India's arms market, New Delhi has been shopping around of late and the visit is seen in Moscow as a chance to regain lost ground and develop joint projects.

"The strategic nature of partnership between India and Russia is witnessed by the unprecedented level of our military and technical cooperation," Putin wrote, saying "the joint development of advanced armaments rather than just purchasing military products" would be key to future relations.

His comments echoed those of Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid who said Friday that "India is committed to strengthening and enhancing this relationship, both on economic and strategic ties".

Likely tie-ups are expected to involve Russia's Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer, including a $3.77 billion deal for 42 Su-30MKI fighters and a deal to produce the fifth generation Sukhoi fighter -- a joint Russia-India project, according to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade.

Moscow has been worried recently by New Delhi's increasing preference for Western suppliers, especially after Boeing was chosen last month over Russia's MiL plant for a major helicopter contract.

India has also been unhappy with delays of deliveries of some naval equipment, notably of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is being refurbished for the Indian Navy at Russia's Sevmash naval yard.

Russia was originally to deliver the upgraded vessel in August 2008, but the date has now been pushed back to the end of 2013, while the price has more than doubled to $2.3 billion.

According to Indian government figures, bilateral trade has been growing steadily and is expected to reach around 10 billion dollars in 2012, up from 7.5 billion in 2009.

Putin set out a goal of doubling trade in just three years.

"Our trade turnover has overcome the consequences of global crisis, and in 2012 we expect to reach record numbers, over $10 billion. Our next goal is to reach $20 bln already by 2015," he said.

Russia and India are both so-called BRICS, the bloc of emerging powers which is seeking to act as a counterweight to Western powers and which also includes Brazil, China and South Africa.

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