As hoped and anticipated, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first state visit to Russia has imparted a big fillip to bilateral ties between the two countries.
At the end of the 16th Summit between PM Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Joint Statement titled ''Shared Trust, New Horizons'' and a slew of agreements - 16 of them - between the two governments, as well as a few between private enterprises, were signed on defence, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy and other key areas.
Meanwhile, Anil Ambani's Reliance Group signed a US$6 billion agreement with Russian manufacturer AlmazAntey to work jointly on a range of air defence missile and radar systems for the Indian defence forces. It also signed a deal with Russian United Shipbuilding Company for warships.
With the large number of agreements... Russia can stay assured that it will continue to be the major supplier of defence assets to India for many years.
The Indian private sector's involvement with defence production in the country is to be warmly welcomed. This will help the country's defence industry to indigenise, modernise and move rapidly up the technology and manufacturing ladder, something that DRDO and PSUs have not been able to achieve. This is the first major agreement with any country under the ''Make in India'' initiative of the government.
Another major decision was to manufacture Kamov-226 T military attack helicopters in India. This will also be covered under the ''Make in India'' umbrella and will contribute to creating jobs, up-gradation of technology and bringing down the volume and value of defence imports.
Russia has been upset at growing ties between India and the West, particularly the US, because its position as the sole supplier of defence armaments since the last 50 years was challenged - the US emerged as India's largest defence supplier in 2014. With the large number of agreements signed during the visit and several others in the pipeline, Russia can stay assured that it will continue to be the major supplier of defence assets to India for many years to come. Russia is keen to expand its defence exports due to the stress its economy is facing on account of Western sanctions over Ukraine, falling energy prices, and the increasing cost of military operations in Syria.
Collaboration in nuclear energy also witnessed a huge upsurge, with the decision to construct at least six additional nuclear reactors with Russian assistance over the next 20 years. In addition to Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu where a project to establish six nuclear reactors is in various stages of implementation, a site has been identified in Andhra Pradesh where six nuclear power plants will be constructed.
Mining of hydrocarbons and trade in diamonds, of which Russia is the world's largest supplier and India the biggest processor, have been identified for enhancing bilateral cooperation.
Collaboration in nuclear energy also witnessed a huge upsurge, with the decision to construct at least six additional nuclear reactors with Russian assistance over the next 20 years.
While defence purchases, nuclear energy, hydrocarbons, outer space and diamonds have been traditional drivers of bilateral ties, expansion of trade and economic relations also received considerable attention during the visit. Both leaders expressed interest in the early conclusion of a study initiated in June this year to assess India's membership of the Eurasian Economic Union. Modi expressed keen desire in promoting connectivity with Russia and Central Asia through the International North South Transport Corridor as well as Chabahar seaport in Iran. Putin supported energising exchanges in promising areas of high technology, innovation, energy, aircraft building, pharmaceuticals and diamonds. Both leaders expressed their determination to achieve the bilateral trade target of US$30 billion by 2025 as against the current anaemic level of US$10 billion.
The leaders addressed the CEOs Forum in which several Indian corporate icons and 34 prominent Russian industrialists took part. It was decided that this group will meet twice a year and provide inputs to the leaders. Modi and Putin conveyed that the existing level of trade and investment is not commensurate with the special and privileged strategic partnership that the two countries enjoy.
On regional and global issues, near identical views were expressed on handling the scourge of terrorism, Islamic State and other challenges. Putin expressed unambiguous support for India's membership of an expanded UN Security Council, while Modi conveyed full understanding and support for Russia's action in Syria and on the evolving situation in Ukraine.
Both leaders expressed their determination to achieve the bilateral trade target of US$30 billion by 2025 as against the current anaemic level of US$10 billion.
The visit promoted understanding between the two leaders and provided a concrete underpinning to the strategic partnership between India and Russia. It also witnessed the first substantive steps towards ''Make in India'' initiative in the important fields of nuclear energy and defence procurement. Although, the leaders' body language did not exude the same warmth and energy that Modi's interactions with Obama or Shinzo Abe did, the visit did go a considerable way in promoting mutual respect and appreciation.
Putin will visit India twice in 2016, one for the BRICS Summit and again for the bilateral summit. These will help to further energise bilateral ties.
This end of year visit provided a further thrust to the highly productive foreign policy that Modi has pursued since he assumed office 19 months ago.
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