Belying predictions of diplomatic fatigue, the last visit to India by the head of a P-5 country in 2010 turned out to be one of the most significant, with 30 agreements and a meeting of minds on key political issues emerging from talks here on Tuesday between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
After 90 minutes of restricted talks between the two leaders and 40 minutes among the delegations, Dr. Singh emerged to tell journalists that India's relationship with Russia was “special and privileged” and would develop independent of its ties with other countries.
The highlight of the 30 agreements was the consolidation and extension of strategic cooperation in the civil nuclear, hydrocarbons and space sectors.
Russia joined the U.S. and France in speaking of India and itself as “states possessing nuclear weapons” and promised to quarterback India's bid for full membership at the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other multilateral export control clubs. Russia reiterated its support to India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, but the formulation used was the same as at the previous two summit meetings. There was also public acknowledgement of India's imminent membership of the Russia-China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
In the civil nuclear sector, a firm agreement on setting up two more reactors at Kudankulam, beyond the four already in the pipeline, was postponed pending the ongoing talks on the liability issue. The Russian side, which wants a firm assurance from India for as many as a dozen large units, essentially wants to wait and see whether New Delhi makes any concession on the liability front to the United States. Moscow is also looking closely at the kind of pricing structure that is emerging from French and American suppliers. Russian reactors are due to come up at Haripur in West Bengal, besides Kudankulam.
In response to Russia's unhappiness with Haripur, another potentially less contentious site in Orissa is being readied.
Apart from these projects, India and Russia agreed to work together at the global level on nuclear energy. In the first initiative of its kind to be taken by either of them, the two countries agreed to consider cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy with third countries and said, “as supplier states, [they] support multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle at the IAEA.” Both sides also identified joint research and development in reactor technology as an area on which the two atomic energy establishments would hold detailed discussions.
In defence, India and Russia marked the beginning of their first-ever collaboration in producing a next-generation fighter aircraft, with the inking of the preliminary design contract agreement.
With both sides focussing greatly on improving their trade and economic ties, Moscow agreed to smoothen travel procedures for business people and visitors, a long-standing Indian grouse that had earlier led to an IT major CEO abandoning plans to invest in Russia. At the same time, both sides agreed to discourage unwanted or overstaying visitors and thereby avoid subsequent diplomatic wrinkles.
The intention to collaborate in the hydrocarbons sector was given a concrete shape by an inter-governmental agreement that will evolve into an extensive road map largely modelled on the Sino-Russia partnership in this sector. The Memorandum of Understanding between Sistema, a telecom-petro giant with rights over two lucrative hydrocarbon fields, and ONGC Videsh progressed to a framework agreement on cooperation. Three agreements in the space sector will give India access to the Russian satellite constellation, the Global Navigation Satellite System.
The two sides also gave a firm shape to a partnership in the pharmaceuticals sector, in which India sees a $15-16 billion opportunity, with the joining of hands by the private sectors of both countries for joint ventures in Russia.