Prime Minister Narendra Modi will leave for Moscow on Wednesday with a slew of defence acquisitions worth an estimated $10 billion and nuclear and space cooperation agreements to be signed during the annual summit with President Putin.
But the larger goal, say analysts will be to tilt the impression that the relation has been strained in a year when India grew closer to the United States and Russia made overtures to Pakistan for the first time. To that end, PM Modi will discuss several big ticket defence deals which would allow Russia to reclaim its position as the top military supplier to India, a spot that the U.S. has held for a few years. “Russia provided defence equipment to India and international support when few were willing to hold our hands,” Mr. Modi told Russian news agency ITAR-TASS in a written interview. “Indians will never forget the Russian support that we got when we needed it the most.”
Responding to a question from The Hindu at a briefing on the visit, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar also rejected the idea that India had moved closer to the U.S. or any “one country on a permanent basis.” The “depth and breath” of the relationship with Russia could not be compared in those terms. “I don’t share this zero-sum game approach,” Mr. Jaishankar said on Tuesday.
Big purchases The big announcement during Mr. Modi’s visit would be the purchase of five S-400 Triumf air defence systems by India, expected to cost about USD 5-6 billion. India is also likely to announce the purchase of four additional improved Talwar class stealth frigates from Russia. “Russia has the potential to be the leading partner in our Make in India mission in defence manufacturing. We are soon going to make a beginning in that direction,” Mr. Modi told ITAR-TASS.
Two deals for utility and medium lift helicopters are expected to be signed, including the deal for 200 Kamov-226T utility helicopters to be built in India by a private partner and a deal for 48 additional Mi-17 V5 medium lift helicopters for the Air Force.
Tata is also in an advanced stage of talks with Sukhoi to set up a Joint Venture to manufacture spares for Sukhoi fighters in India, as The Hindu had reported earlier, and several major defence-sector CEOs from Reliance and TATAs will accompany the PM at a business summit on Thursday. “The real shift between India-Russia summits in the past and this year will be the inclusion of the private sector in the strategic partnership between the two countries,” ORF analyst Nandan Unnikrishnan told The Hindu .
Sources also told The Hindu that India and Russia will sign a major deal to fast track two more nuclear energy reactors for the > fifth and sixth phases of Kudankulam energy complex in Tamil Nadu as part of the larger roadmap released during President Putin’s visit to Delhi in 2014, while India could offer new sites in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh as well.
Key discussions Prime Minister Modi will begin his visit with a one-on-one dinner with Russian President Putin, which officials termed “potentially a very significant chat.” Apart from the bilateral discussions, the leaders are expected to discuss the conflict in Syria, and Russia’s decision to assist President Assad’s forces to fight ISIS.
“Both Russia and India agree that the solution to the problem in Syria will be achieved by political and diplomatic means and through an intra-Syrian dialogue,” Mr. Jaishankar said.
According to officials, they will also discuss the growing violence in Afghanistan, where Mr. Modi is expected to visit on his way back from Moscow on December 25. India has transferred four Russian-made Mi25 helicopters to Afghanistan, for which it had applied to Russia for clearance, and Mr. Modi will do the formal handover when he goes to Kabul.
Analysts said the biggest expectation from the conversation at dinner and at the official summit on Thursday will be to “discuss openly” just where the India-US and Russia-Pakistan relationships are headed. India has been worried about the Russian offer of helicopters, as well as reports of a transfer of Klimov93 engines to Pakistan for their China-made JF-17 aircraft. “Similarly, the Russians would like clarity about India’s growing ties with the United States. In fact, some of Russia’s hesitation in sharing some sensitive technologies with India may be because of the talks India is conducting with some Western countries for similar technologies,” Mr. Unnikrishnan wrote in the Russia-India Report (RIR) this week, while analysts in Russia have covered the India-US maritime cooperation agreement as well as defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent visit to the US as the first Indian defence minister to visit the Pacific command and go onboard the USS Eisenhower extensively.