/

Putin targets arms deals, doubling in trade on India trip

Visit highlights links between two allies, fellow BRICS nations

AFP-JIJI

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to tighten defense ties with India and double levels of bilateral trade within three years as he headed to New Delhi for a summit on Monday.

Accompanied by several senior ministers and military officials, Putin will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a one-day visit designed to highlight the strong ties between two traditional allies and fellow BRICS.

“I would like to stress that deepening of friendship and cooperation with India is among the top priorities of our foreign policy,” Putin wrote in an article for The Hindu, an Indian daily, ahead of his visit. India is now the world’s largest arms importer and Russian-made military equipment accounts for 70 percent of Indian arms supplies.

But while Russia once had a virtual monopoly over India’s arms market, New Delhi has been shopping around of late and the visit is seen in Moscow as a chance to regain lost ground and develop joint projects.

“The strategic nature of partnership between India and Russia is witnessed by the unprecedented level of our military and technical cooperation,” Putin wrote in his article, saying “the joint development of advanced armaments rather than just purchasing military products” would be key to future relations.

His comments echoed those of Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, who said Friday that “India is committed to strengthening and enhancing this relationship, both on economic and strategic ties.”

“There is a lot of work in progress and a lot of issues and agreements will be taken up,” he said.

The Kremlin has said that a number of major contracts on military-technical cooperation will be inked during the visit — Putin’s first to South Asia since his return to the Kremlin in May.

Likely tieups are expected to involve Russia’s Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer, including a $3.7 billion deal for 42 Su-30MKI fighters and a deal to produce the fifth-generation Sukhoi fighter — a joint Russia-India project, according to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade.

Moscow has been worried recently by New Delhi’s increasing preference for Western suppliers, especially after Boeing was chosen last month over Russia’s MiL plant for a major helicopter contract. India has also been unhappy with delays of deliveries of some naval equipment, notably of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is being refurbished for the Indian Navy at Russia’s Sevmash naval yard.

Russia was originally to deliver the upgraded vessel in August 2008, but the date has now been pushed back to the end of 2013, while the price has more than doubled to $2.3 billion.

According to Indian government figures, bilateral trade has been growing steadily and is expected to reach around $10 billion in 2012, up from $7.5 billion in 2009. Putin set out a goal of doubling bilateral trade in just three years. “Our trade turnover has overcome the consequences of global crisis, and in 2012 we expect to reach record numbers, over $10 billion. Our next goal is to reach $20 billion already by 2015,” he said.

Russia and India are both so-called BRICS, the bloc of emerging powers seeking to act as a counterweight to Western powers that also includes Brazil, China and South Africa.

India is hoping Russia will help it achieve its ambition of joining an expanded U.N. Security Council that currently only has five permanent members — Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.

The Kremlin said that Russia sees India “as one of the worthy and strong candidates for a permanent seat in the expanded U.N. Security Council.”

As well as his talks with Singh, Putin is also due to meet the ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition BJP.