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Russia, India Boost Ties On Nuclear Energy, Space, Defense


Indian President Prathibha Patil (left) welcomes Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the presidential palace in New Delhi.
(RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin oversaw the signing of five pacts with India after meeting in New Delhi with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

The contracts, signed during Putin's one-day visit on March 12, are related to India's nuclear power, space, and defense sectors, and have been valued at more than $10 billion.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who accompanied Putin, says Russia will build up to 16 nuclear reactors for power stations in India. That includes a contract for construction of two reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, where Russia plans to commission the first reactor this year.

Russia wants to increase annual trade with India from the current level of about $8 billion per year to $20 billion by 2015. New Delhi wants Russia to increase the amount of uranium fuel it receives from Russia.

Earlier today, Putin told an audience in New Delhi that Russia's nuclear reactors are superior in design to those of the Soviet-era.

"According to the latest assessment of the IAEA, Russian nuclear reactors are among the safest in the world. The experts know that this is because they have a direct protection -- our reactors have double casing -- and they also have special smart protection mechanisms," Putin said.

Putin made the remarks to a conference on the Internet and computer technology.

"Unlike other reactors that are being built in the world, our reactors can withstand a direct hit if a medium-range airplane weighing several tons crashes into them," he said.

GPS System

Emphasizing the importance of relations between the two countries, Putin told the conference that high-tech cooperation with India is a priority for the Kremlin.

In the space sector, the two countries plan to set up a joint venture to produce equipment for a global navigation satellite system.

One defense sector deal signed today involves a $1.5 billion contract for Russia to provide "MiG-29" fighter jets to India.

Rahul Bedi, a correspondent in New Delhi for the London-based journal "Jane's Defense Weekly," says the fighter jet deal is part of a series of projects that are vital to the modernization of India's Navy.

"One is the long-standing deal for the refit of an aircraft carrier that the Indian navy is acquiring from the Russians. Another is [the deal] for MiG-29 naval combat aircraft, and another very important factor is the lease of a nuclear-powered submarine by the Indian navy," Bedi said.

"The lease is for 10 years and it is worth anywhere between $600 and $700 million. The submarine was supposed to arrive in India last year in September but because of an accident that occurred in the Baltic Sea, the submarine is now expected to arrive sometime in May or June of this year."

The aircraft carrier deal is an accord that freezes the price India is to pay for the refurbished Russian aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshkov." That aircraft carrier, which is to be rechristened as "Vikramaditya" in India, has been a sore point in relations between the two countries because of disputes over pricing and delivery delays.

'Long-Standing Defense Cooperation'

The original contract for India to acquire the aircraft carrier was signed in 2004 with delivery scheduled for 2008 after refurbishing. The date has now been pushed back to 2012. India's Cabinet Committee on Security approved a new price of $2.35 billion for the aircraft carrier, including the refurbishing project, on the eve of Putin's visit.

Bedi says other important defense projects between India and Russia involve the joint development of a military transport aircraft, as well as a fifth generation stealth fighter. The supersonic fighter is seen as an equivalent to the U.S. Raptor stealth fighter.

Russia currently supplies 60 to 70 percent of India's defense equipment. Vishnu Prakash, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman, says relations with Russia have evolved since the 1960s to include several joint ventures in defense equipment design and production.

Singh says the finalization of the long-pending defense cooperation projects will deepen "long-standing defense-cooperation" between India and Russia.

Singh says he and Putin also discussed regional security issues in South Asia -- agreeing to intensify consultations on Afghanistan and the challenges posed by terrorism and extremism" in the region.