But the 14th Indian-Russian summit promises to strengthen old ties

A crucial agreement on Kudankulam is still not on the table but on what is possibly his last official visit to an old friend of India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will seek to reiterate the “strategic congruence” of a relationship that New Delhi believes has been successfully reinvented for the new century.

As Manmohan Singh landed in the Russian capital on Sunday afternoon for the 14th annual bilateral summit, it was clear that the agreement most sought after by both countries was still proving elusive.

Lawyers on both sides are said to be poring over the fine print of the liability clauses that Russians are apprehensive about in any deal to supply two more reactors to the Kudankulam nuclear power station in Tamil Nadu.

The convergence on strategic issues, including the shared interest in Afghanistan’s future, and peace and stability in the region, is likely to form the centrepiece of the talks between Prime Minister Singh and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Monday.

“I will convey to President Putin the importance we attach to our relations with Russia, and I will use this visit to strengthen our partnership in every possible way,” Prime Minister Singh said in a pre-departure statement.

Russia was a “privileged partner”, Indian officials said, and bilateral relations are “in good shape, [and] on the right trajectory”. After the initial confusion in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the officials said, “in the last 10 years, we’ve built that relationship back up. It’s now a strategic partnership”.

The two sides will sign a handful of agreements, including one that will allow Russians and Indians convicted in each other’s countries to serve out their sentence in jails in their home country.

Officials said the two sides are also in the process of agreeing to a programme of co-operation on oil and natural gas, though no agreement would be signed in this sector during this visit.

India and Russia have almost finalised the agreement for two additional reactors at the nuclear power station in Kudankulam, besides the two that Russia has already supplied, but lawyers are vetting the text, officials said.

Until the lawyers give the clearance, the two governments cannot give the go ahead for the commercial agreement between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Russia’s Rosatom.

The legal green signal is not expected to arrive in time for the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.

The concern on the Russian side is that the two new reactors will be covered under India’s 2010 nuclear liability law. “Everything has been cleaned up, and it’s the last legal vetting. We’ve actually agreed on the text. It’s just the lawyers have to say it’s fine. It’s the last stage. We’ve agreed on the terms, we’ve agreed on all that,” said one official familiar with the negotiations.

Prime Minister Singh has attended 10 summits since the annual event began in 2000, and officials described his personal rapport with President Putin as excellent.

Both countries, officials said, share similar views on important international issues such as the crisis in West Asia and Afghanistan.

On Afghanistan, Indian officials said, the two countries were in regular consultations along with other members of the international community, as Russia was as interested as India in seeing that Afghanistan does not go back to being a source for extremism, terrorism and radicalism after the US military drawdown.

‘Long history of cooperation’

“It affects the Russians, it affects us. We have a long history of cooperation on this, of working with each other and other friends in the international community to prevent this from happening,” said one official.

The Indian side is evidently hoping that the “fundamental commonality” on this issue between New Delhi and Moscow will send a strong message to Pakistan that it cannot claim ownership over Afghanistan post-2014.

Though both India and Russia have opted not to get involved militarily in Afghanistan, said the official, “that doesn’t mean we don’t work with the Afghans, or that we don’t deal with what comes out of Afghanistan. We do that together, and we co-ordinate very closely. And it works. It has been working well in the past and will work in the future as well”.

China too has the same goal, and the trilateral India-China-Russia discussion in February this year underlined that, the official said.

Despite what observers have described as New Delhi’s pro-American tilt, Indian officials were also keen to point out that there had been a convergence of views between India and Russia on Syria. Like Russia, India was also of the view that there could be no military solution in that country, and it was up to the Syrians to decide who rules them.

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