President Vladimir Putin hailed India as Russia’s “unqualified strategic partner” and a top foreign policy priority for Moscow.

“Cooperation with India, our unqualified strategic partner, is a foreign policy priority for Russia,” Mr. Putin said after accepting credentials from India’s new Ambassador to Russia P. S. Raghavan and 17 other envoys in the Kremlin on Thursday.

Mr. Putin said Russia and India are engaged in “dynamic and constructive dialogue” based on “shared long-term interests, mutual sympathies and sincere trust.”

The Russian leader pointed out that following his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Moscow in October 2013, the two countries approved “joint programmes in science, biotechnology and innovation” and “concrete plans to expand our military-technical cooperation.”

P. S. Raghavan, with his university degree in science and engineering and a four-year stint as joint secretary in the PMO overlooking atomic energy, space and defence, is well-positioned to follow through on Mr Putin’s emphasis on science and defence in Indo-Russian cooperation.

There are a number of other challenges P. S. Raghavan will face during his stint in Moscow. His immediate tasks will include sorting out the nuclear liability issue that stalled the construction of Units 3 and 4 at the Kudankulam power plant; setting the ball rolling on talks for a Free Trade Agreement between India and the Russia-led Customs Union and expanding India’s foothold in the Russian oil and gas sector beyond Sakhalin-1.

P. S. Raghavan also faces an uphill task of sustaining the dynamic growth in bilateral trade with Russia during the tenure of his predecessor, Ajai Malhotra, and nearly doubling bilateral trade from $11 billion in 2012 to $20-billion, the target Dr. Singh and Mr. Putin set for the two countries to reach by 2015.

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