External Affairs

Modi, Putin Push Nuclear Ties But Fusion in Region a Part of Russian Mix

Russian president tells reporters India and Russia do not have an exclusive relationship, they can have good ties with the US and Pakistan too.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Witnessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Thursday, Indian and Russian officials signed a general framework agreement and credit protocol for two more reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant on Thursday

In the third leg of his four-nation Europe tour, Modi met with Putin for their annual summit, during which they talked about not just bilateral issues, but discussed regional matters related to Afghanistan and Syria.

Five pacts were signed after formal talks, including for Kudankulam 5 and 6. The agreements for these two units were supposed to have been concluded by the end of 2016, but there had been some lingering disagreement over the terms of the Russian loan to build these reactors.

“Cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy has emerged as one of the hallmarks of the strategic partnership between the two countries, contributing to India’s energy security and energising broader scientific and technological cooperation,” said the joint statement issued at the end of the prime minister’s visit to Russia.

On the issue of terrorism, the bilateral document called on “all countries and entities to work sincerely to disrupt terrorist networks and their financing, and stop cross-border movement of terrorists”. For India, the inclusion of the term ‘cross-border movement’ in an international document is usually a reference for Pakistan.

Earlier, during an interaction with the international media, Putin had said Russia had a “special relationship” with India, which was not diluted with its growing relations with Pakistan, according to PTI.

He added that having a ‘special relationship’ does not mean that India can be restricted from having contacts with other countries.

“We do not have any tight (military) relations with Pakistan. The US, do you have (close relations)?,” he said. “And for sure our relations with Pakistan have no impact on trade between India and Russia.”

The news agency says Putin dodged a question on Kashmir, stating that “it is up to you” to assess whether Pakistan is fuelling terrorism in the Indian state. “But no matter where the threat comes, it is unacceptable and we will always support India in its fight against terrorism,” he added.

Russia had been wooing Pakistan mainly to bring the Taliban to the table and restart the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Moscow has been fixed on getting the Taliban into the mainstream, in order to militarily focus all energies on eliminating Islamic State, which it considers the greater terror threat.

The joint statement says that India and Russia will “coordinate” positions on the restoration of peace in Middle East, Syria – and achievement of national reconciliation in Afghanistan “using the laid down principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, while encouraging the countries to lead the change from within”. It also added that both countries will work on Afghanistan as per the agreed framework of the Moscow Dialogue, which is the regional process initiated by Russia, without including US and NATO countries.

Along with Pakistan, the joint statement also mirrored Indian concerns on China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative connectivity project. Incidentally, Putin was one of the stars at the BRI summit in Beijing last month, which was attended by over 25 world leaders.

In line with  Russia’s belief in the BRI’s importance, the joint statement said that both sides “appreciate the compelling logic of regional connectivity for peace, progress and prosperity”.

But in a nod to Indian reservations about the Chinese project, it adds: “We believe that connectivity must be strengthened It should be based on dialogue and consent of all parties concerned with due respect to sovereignty. The Russian and Indian Sides being guided by the principles of transparency, sustainability and responsibility, reiterate their commitment to build effective infrastructure for the International North South Transport Corridor and implementation of the Green Corridor.”

The underlining of dialogue, consent and sovereignty in connectivity project was certainly echoing Indian criticism of China’s flagship connectivity project. India – along with Bhutan, which usually follows India’s lead on foreign policy matters – were the only regional countries that did not participate in the Beijing summit at the official level.

A few hours after the Modi-Putin meeting, the Chinese state-run news agency, Xinhua asserted that the Russian president had reiterated support for the Belt and Road initiative at an interaction with foreign journalists.

In his media statement, Prime Minister Modi underlined strong defence ties, which he said will go qualitatively to a higher level. He pointed out that India and Russia will hold their first ever tri-services exercise INDRA–2017 this year.