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Kudankulam, high point of India-Russia ties

Nirupama Subramanian
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Plant’s imminent connection to the grid cited as an example of robust civil nuclear cooperation

With the agreement on the supply of two more Russian reactors to the Kudankulam nuclear power project stumbling over liability concerns, both India and Russia on Monday seized on Unit 1’s imminent connection to the power grid to assert that bilateral civil nuclear co-operation was on track.

After his talks with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was unequivocal about India’s relations with a decades-old friend and strategic partner.

“Relations with Russia are the highest strategic priority for us,” the Prime Minister declared, and said he had conveyed India’s commitment to “fully implement the road map on civil nuclear co-operation” signed by the two countries in 2010.The agreement envisages Russia supplying 15 to 18 nuclear reactors in locations across India.

“We have directed our officials to resolve all outstanding issues at the earliest,” Mr. Singh said, in an apparent reference to the 2010 nuclear liability law that has proved a stumbling block in finalising an agreement for Units 3 and 4 at the project in Tamil Nadu.

The joint statement the two sides put out after the summit, the 14th in an annual series, said the two sides “agreed to expeditiously finalise” the General Framework Agreement and the Techno-Commerical Offer for Units 3 and 4. India’s Ambassador to Russia, Ajai Malhotra, said negotiations were continuing and were down to “a word or two.”

In their separate statements, both Mr. Putin and Dr. Singh highlighted the imminent production of power from Unit 1 and that Unit 2 would be going critical next year.

President Putin said the talks “gave priority” to increasing the economic ties. The bilateral trade is only $ 11 billion, but both sides stressed that it had risen 25 per cent in the last year despite an adverse global situation.

The Russian President also stressed that the “quality” of Russian trade with India was also a matter of satisfaction, as it included machinery and equipment. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh described as “visionary” the agreement between the two sides to study the possibility of an overland gas pipeline. India and Russia are also working on increasing ONGC Videsh Limited’s involvement in oil and gas exploration in Russia, where the company already has its largest investments.

With the OVL in talks with both private and state-owned Russian companies, Indian officials said more “positive indicators” on co-operation in the hydrocarbons sector would soon emerge.

In order to give economic ties a boost, India has also sought Russian support for concluding a Free Trade Agreement with the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Despite the reported Russian concerns about India increasing the diversity of its defence buying, both sides were emphatic that ties in this sector, along with nuclear co-operation, remained a strong pillar of the relationship.

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