Putin, Modi hail 'partnership' as India eyes defense deals

Agence France-Presse
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi walk into a hall during a meeting with business representatives at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 24, 2015. 
Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Thursday the "partnership" between their two nations as they oversaw the signing of energy and other deals.

However no progress was announced on an anticipated purchase of S-400 missiles, Russia's top-of-the-line anti-aircraft defense systems.

"I see in Russia a prominent partner in India's economic transformation," Modi said after the two leaders agreed to ease the visa requirements between the two nations that are part of the BRICS group of leading emerging market countries.

They also oversaw the signing of several agreements involving Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom and railway monopoly Russian Railways, among others.

India wants Moscow to take part in infrastructure projects as the Modi government seeks to overhaul the country's railway network and build nuclear energy plants to meet the growing electricity needs for its fast-growing economy.

The two countries agreed on the location of a new Russian nuclear energy plant in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, with Moscow already building a nuclear plant in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Modi is seeking to ramp up the country's nuclear energy use to meet the rising energy needs, with a program for at least 12 new reactors, as well as reduce its heavy dependency on coal, the worst greenhouse gas producing fuel.

Modi said that Moscow and Delhi would also jointly produce Kamov-226 military helicopters as part of the Make in India initiative to have foreign companies manufacture their products in India.

Putin for his part called Russia's ties with India a "privileged strategic partnership", praising the two nations' energy and defense cooperation.

"There are plans to send large-scale supplies of oil and oil products to Indian refineries in the amount of 10 million tons annually over the next 10 years," Putin said after the talks.

S-400 deal close?

However the two leaders were silent about the S-400, although India's top acquisition body was reported to have cleared the purchase of the air defense system ahead of Modi's trip.

On Thursday, Indian firm Reliance Defence said it would work with the Russian manufacturer of the S-400 "on the entire range of air defense missile and radar systems" that India needs.

But it was not immediately clear whether the two companies were close to a final deal on the missiles and the two leaders did not take any questions from reporters in Moscow.

Dipankar Banerjee, a defense analyst at Delhi-based think tank Forum for Strategic Initiatives, said India was "vulnerable to Pakistan and China both in terms of missile attacks and air strikes" and that the S-400 systems were "very desirable" despite a hefty price tag.

Russian business daily Kommersant said this week that Putin's one-on-one talks with Modi would decide the fate of the deal as the two still needed to sort out pricing disagreements.

India could be in the market for as many as five systems, the paper said, quoting defense sources, with deals on Russian frigates also on the cards.

The Moscow trip is Modi's first state visit to Russia since he became prime minister in 2014, but he and Putin have met several times at international events and even discussed the merits of yoga at a summit in the Russian city of Ufa last July.