India, Russia to focus on n-energy, defence during summit

December 7th, 2011 - 8:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Dec 7 (IANS) India and Russia will focus on expanding nuclear energy cooperation and building on their long-standing military ties during the three-day visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Moscow beginning Dec 15 for a bilateral summit, when over half-a-dozen pacts are expected to be signed.

Even as the two sides work towards clinching crucial deals, Russia is preparing to hand over the first of two Akula-II nuclear-powered submarines to the Indian Navy on a 10-year lease that will cost this country close to $1 billion.

Among the agreements likely during the visit are those in the energy, defence and trade sectors, even as the two sides are inching closer to signing a deal on the controversial Koodankulam nuclear plant’s third and fourth phases, Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin told reporters here Wednesday.

“This time it is business…official visit…it will be energy sector, military field, and economic sector” Kadakin said when asked about the areas in which the agreements would be signed.

Among the agreements likely is one on Blocks III and IV at the Koodankulam nuclear plant in southern Tamil Nadu, which is witnessing protests by local villagers over the safety of the project following the Fukushima disaster in Japan earlier this year.

“Talks are in progress and at a very active stage about Units III and IV (of Koondankulam) Let us expect they complete it,” Kadakin said in reply to a question.

Kadakin said Russia has proposed to expand the existing Koodankulam plant and have blocks III and IV in the near future, and to go even further for blocks V and VI, and in some distant future blocks VII and VIII too, provided there was enough space at the nuclear plant site.

On reports of the Haripur nuclear plant in West Bengal using Russian reactors, Kadakin said it was not a concrete proposal and just a name that came up for discussion.

He said the Indian government had agreed to suggesting an alternative site instead of Haripur in view of a fishermen’s movement against the nuclear plant there, but in the one year since, no new site had been proposed, though sites in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh had come up during discussions.

“We are ready to build. Where it will be convenient, it is India’s choice not Russia’s choice,” he said.

Asked about the nuclear-powered submarine that Russia is leasing to India, Kadakin said: “It is in the pipeline. It is coming.” However, he refused to set a date for handing over the vessel, to be christened INS Chakra, to the Indian Navy.

He said that after 10 years of “strategic” ties, the two countries had redefined their relations as a “special and privileged” diplomatic partnership. He said Russia will be with India “rain or shine”.

Referring to the last year’s visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to India when “an unprecedented” 33 agreements were signed, he said during this visit, though the number of agreements will be less, the quality of the pacts would be far greater.

“Last year was an unprecedented year. During the summit meeting between Medvedev and Singh, 33 agreements were signed and three were signed behind the curtain. 2010 was unprecedented. India was only country that both the Russian president and the prime minister visited in one year. It is Himalayan relations,” he said.

To a query on the Indian nuclear liability laws and its implications for Russian projects here, Kadakin said the new rules were yet to be finalised, but still they would not be applicable to Koondankulam I and II as the agreements were signed in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the laws did not exist.

“Russia expects that the same agreements and rules will apply if we go for Koodankulam’s units III and IV,” he added.

On the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s 2008 waiver to India and its recent decision on curtailing transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies, Kadakin said Russia would follow all bilateral agreements in the field of nuclear energy with India and at the same time comply with international non-proliferation rules.

“We expect that our nuclear cooperation, in spite of all odds and all your internal problems, will continue and we are ready to assist India in this. We have the roadmap that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed last March, under which 14 to 16 power blocks with 1 gigabytes are planned. We are implementing this roadmap. Nuclear energy and cooperation in energy sector will be the major guideline of the forthcoming visit,” he added.

In the sphere of defence, the two sides are expected to sign further agreements on joint development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft and multirole transport aircraft, apart from discussing the progress of the BrahMos missile programme.

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