Manmohan Singh to embark on Russia visit today

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New Delhi, Nov 11: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will embark on a two-day visit to Russia this afternoon for summit-level talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

During his visit, ways to improve bilateral trade, expand energy cooperation and fine-tune defence ties are expected to be outlined in several bilateral pacts to be signed by the two sides.

The visit, which is coming at the invitation of Putin, is in continuation of annual Summit meetings between India and Russia institutionalised since the first visit of Putin as President to India in October 2000.

The last Summit was held in New Delhi during the Russian President"s visit on January 25-26 this year, when he also participated as Chief Guest at India"s Republic Day celebrations. Since then, a series of high-level visits have taken place between the two countries to strengthen bilateral cooperation in various areas.

Speaking a day before his departure for Moscow, Singh said that Russia has a "special and unique" place in India's foreign relations.

In an interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, he said expressed the hope that bilateral cooperation in the fields of defence and energy security would continue to grow in the future.

"India and Russia have enjoyed close ties of friendship and partnership over the last sixty years. Russia occupies a special and unique place in India's foreign relations. Our time-tested relationship is based on deep mutual trust and understanding," Singh said.

Expressing optimism on the future of bilateral strategic partnership between the two nations, he said, "Indo-Russian relations will grow to great heights.

"The evolution of our relations will be based on the solid foundation of the last sixty years. I see a continuing convergence and similarity of our world views on major international issues," the Prime Minister said, adding that India saw Russia as its "most important partner" in defence cooperation.

"Russia is the only country with which we have a formal mechanism of an Inter-Governmental Commission for military-technical cooperation, which meets annually under the chairmanship of the two defence ministers. Defence cooperation is an integral element of our strategic partnership. Joint research, development and production of defence equipment will continue to play an important role in strengthening India's strategic partnership with Russia," Singh said noting that many defence contracts between the two nations are at various stages of implementation.

He cited last month's signing of inter-governmental agreement for cooperation in the production and development of fifth generation multi-functional fighter aircraft (FGFA).

"I am sure that bilateral collaboration in the field of military technical cooperation will continue to grow in the future," Singh said.

He also proposed India, with its rapidly increasing energy demands, could become a major guarantor of energy demand for Russia, with its immense proven reserves of oil and gas.

"With India growing at over 8-9 per cent per annum, our energy requirements are increasing rapidly. President Putin has defined energy security as not just security of supply but also security of demand. India can be a major guarantor for energy demand," Dr. Singh said.

He noted that Indian and Russian oil and gas companies are engaged in discussions to expand their cooperation beyond the Sakhalin-1 project. At the same time, Russian oil and gas companies are active in India.

The Prime Minister named enhancement of power generation capacity as an extremely important objective for India. According to him, India needs energy from all sources, including renewable and nuclear energy.

"We have plans to produce 20,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020. International civil nuclear energy cooperation will enable us to augment our nuclear energy production," Singh stated.

Indo-Russian trade are below expectations and the volume was about 112 billion dollars with the balance of trade being in favour of Russia. Bilateral cooperation in nuclear energy is expected to chart a new course during Dr. Singh's visit amid reports that the two countries will sign an agreement for building four more nuclear reactors in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.

As per the existing Memorandum of Understanding, the ongoing nuke cooperation covered construction of two 1,000 mw nuclear reactors in Kudankulam.

There is ongoing dialogue and exchange of views between the two governments on various issues of mutual interest. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee met his Russian counterpart on October 24 in Harbin (China) on the sidelines of India-Russia-China Trilateral Foreign Ministers Meeting and on August 1 in Manila on the sidelines of ARF/ EAS meetings.

The two Foreign Ministers also participated in BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) Foreign Ministers Meeting in New York on 24 September and India-Russia-China Trilateral Foreign Ministers Meeting in New Delhi on February 14, 2007. National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan paid a visit to Russia on August 27-28 and the Acting Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Valentin Sobolev visited India on October 28.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony also visited Russia on October 17-19 for the 7th Session of the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation, which was co-Chaired by Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. During the visit, the two countries signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement on Cooperation in the Development and Production of Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft.

This year, the Integrated Long Term Programme for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (ILTP) between India and Russia has completed 20 years of fruitful work. A Joint Council of the ILTP, which was co-Chaired by the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, Prof. CNR Rao, was held in Moscow on October 11-12.

During the meeting, the two sides concluded a Memorandum of Understanding on the setting up of three new joint centres of excellence on non-ferrous and rare metals, bio-medical technology and accelerators and lasers. There is ongoing cooperation in the space sector in terms of implementation of various inter-Governmental agreements under an umbrella agreement on cooperation in outer space for peaceful purposes signed in December 2004.

Karan Singh, President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, visited Russia from October 7-10 to discuss preparations for the 'Year of Russia" in India in 2008.

Earlier, during the visit of Putin to India in January, the two sides had signed a Protocol on holding 'Year of Russia" in India in 2008 and 'Year of India" in Russia in 2009. The 'Year of Russia" will be inaugurated in early 2008 and the year-long programme will include exhibitions, trade fairs, seminars, book fair, film festivals, industry interactions, fashion and food events and various cultural performances.

In 2007, India and Russia will also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries (13 April). In this regard, a Plan of Major Events adopted during Putin"s visit to India in January is being implemented.

The Prime Minister is expected to return home in the early hours of Tuesday.


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