New nuclear plants, military cooperation high on agenda: Putin

Vladimir PutinMoscow : Terming the ties with India as a "privileged strategic partnership", Russian President Vladimir Putin tonight disclosed that construction of new nuclear plants besides military and technical cooperation was high on the agenda during his visit to New Delhi.

Seeking to dispel the perception that Russia-India ties had lost some warmth, Putin described India as a "reliable and time-tested partner" although he spoke of a "gradual transition from the producer-consumer model to joint development and production of advanced weapons systems".

Dismissing concerns in India about military cooperation between Russia and Pakistan, the President said "we have held talks on Russia's possible assistance in improving effectiveness of counter-terrorism and anti-drug operations".

"In my view, this kind of cooperation serves the long-term interest of all countries in the region, including India," Putin told PTI in a wide-ranging interview a day ahead of his arrival in the Indian capital on a 24-hour visit.

The Russian leader spoke warmly about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, describing him as a "reputable political leader, who has already made a significant personal contribution to the promotion of the Russian-Indian cooperation".

Putin said during his sixth visit to India he looked forward to specific steps aimed at "strengthening the privileged strategic partnership" between the two countries during which particular attention would be given to expanding trade and economic links, besides boosting mutual investments.

Listing the joint strategic projects, the President said that these included construction of new units for Indian nuclear power plants, promotion of Russian Sukhoi superjet-100 and MS-21 passenger aircraft to Indian market besides manufacturing of helicopters and creating a "smart city" on the basis of Russian technology.

"Apart from building new energy units of the NPP

(Nuclear Power Project) "Kudankulam", we await the decision of the Indian government to allot a site for construction of a new Russian-designed nuclear power plant.

"Document to start construction of the second stage of that NPP has been nearly finalised. A general framework agreement for building the third and fourth energy units was signed in Mumbai this April," Putin said on his talks agenda with Modi.

He stressed that today NPP "Kudankulam" is the world's only nuclear power plant which meets all the "post-Fukushima" safety requirements.

However, the President sidestepped a question whether the problems over whether the problems over the Indian nuclear liability law posing hurdles in fresh nuclear energy cooperation have been resolved.

Putin said Russia attached particular importance to the development of military and technical cooperation which is one of the main components of the strategic partnership.

"We will discuss in detail the current projects in this most important sphere related not only to the export of ready-made equipment but to close technological and industrial cooperation as well," he said.

Positioning Russia as a reliable energy supplier to Asia, Putin said Russia is keen to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to India and involve ONGC in oil and gas hunt in the Arctic as he looks to deepen energy ties with India as a counter to US sanctions.

He said the cost of selling natural gas to India through a cross-country pipeline was much higher than shipping it in its liquid form (LNG).

Putin today made a strong pitch for reversing the decline in bilateral trade with India but was non-committal on India's desire for a free trade agreement (FTA).

Russia and India have a huge potential of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, he noted. PTI