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Rediff.com  » Business » India to get more nuke reactors from Russia

India to get more nuke reactors from Russia

December 05, 2009 02:57 IST
India and Russia will take new steps to reinvent their strategic partnership when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin on December 7, with a civil nuclear cooperation agreement and an extended defence cooperation pact, expected to be the highlight of the meeting.

Last week as the PM travelled to the United States, over-zealous bureaucrats in the Obama administration, well-versed in the minutiae of non-proliferation matters, prevented a signature on a nuclear fuel processing agreement between India and the US.

But next week in Moscow, an umbrella agreement on civil nuclear cooperation that envisages as many as ten to twelve Russian nuclear reactors being sold to India over the coming decade, could well transform the stagnating relationship and take it into new realms, far beyond the meagre $10 billion of annual bilateral trade today.

Another indicator of freshly warming ties is the visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Delhi in the first half of March 2010, when the deal over the 'Admiral Gorshkov'/INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier and its accompanying Mig-29K fighter jets is likely to be finally signed.

Besides these pacts, a joint declaration between the two sides envisaging a political partnership, a $100-million credit line between Russia's Vneshekonombank and Exim Bank, as well as a small agreement on procedures to be employed by defence personnel participating in joint exercises between the two sides will be started.

On the evening of December 7, the prime minister will also formally close the 'Year of India in Russia' at the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet, where noted sarod player Amjad Ali Khan will perform with his two sons. However, a culture agreement between the two sides is unlikely to see the light of day.

Highly placed sources in both establishments confirmed that Delhi has indicated to Moscow about being willing to look at expanding the number of Russian nuclear plants going to be built on a second site at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, from four to six.

Russia is already building two civil nuclear plants of 1,000 Mw each at Kudankulam -- taking the proposed total there to eight -- and these are expected to go onstream very soon.

Similarly, at the Haripur site in West Bengal, which has been allocated to Russia to build two reactors (besides two each for the US in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh and two for France in Maharashtra), the possibility of expanding this number to four is already being talked about. It is believed Medvedev will make Singh an offer of building 10-12 reactors over the next decade in India.

Significantly, the impending civil nuclear cooperation agreement is expected to talk about much more than nuclear reactor sales from Russia to India. Besides incorporating schedules and sales of nuclear fuel that will feed the Russian reactors and allow Indian reprocessing of the fuel -- the real crux of the problem in the case between India and the US -- the deal actually signifies a slow but definite shift in India's strategic vision of the world and the reinvented contours of its relationship with Russia.

Indian officials steeped in nostalgia have often reminisced about the halcyon days of the special relationship between India and the Soviet Union. But in recent months, it has been none other than the pragmatist prime minister -- whose single-minded pursuit of the US over the past five years in search of the nuclear deal meant that several other relationships like Russia were abandoned by the Moskva riverside -- who has signalled his intent to re-look at the Indo-Russian relationship in new ways.

Describing Russia as a "world power" in interviews with Delhi-based Russian journalists two days ago, on the eve of his Russia visit -- a phrase he has not used in the past five years -- the prime minister also talked about the need for both Indian and Russian businessmen to take advantage of India's powerful growth indicators despite the recession that has consumed Russia.

The PM's reference to Russia as a "world power" was made in the context of how Moscow should seek to influence Pakistan to abandon terrorism as an instrument of strategic power.

In one swoop, the PM was indicating, again, that India was not only ready and willing to talk to Islamabad if it took serious measures against India-related terrorist attacks, but also allowed that Russia, besides the US, had a stake in taking responsibility for the expanding arc of terrorism that affected not only Afghanistan-Pakistan but also the underbelly of Russia and all of Central Asia.

Both Russian and Indian officials strenuously deny that the newly warming relationship between them has something to do with the newly-acquired distance between Delhi and Washington under the Obama administration. But, it is clear that Manmohan Singh put on a brave face when the world saw India being jointly lectured by the US and Chinese presidents in Beijing recently.

According to noted Russian political analyst Sergei Kurginyan, who in Delhi recently met senior Indian officials, including National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, "India is a very important partner for Russia and promoting the bilateral relationship is in the strategic interest of both countries".

Besides the nuclear agreement, the other major pact to be initiated at the Kremlin will revolve around the expanded long-term defence cooperation between India and Russia, over the decade 2010-2020.

Meanwhile, sources confirmed that price differences still persisted over the 'Admiral Gorshkov' deal, which is why it was not being finalised during the PM's coming visit to Moscow. India is still not willing to pay more than $2.1-2.2 billion for the entire package, while the Russian side is not comfortable with a price below $2.5-2.7 billion.

A third interesting aspect of the PM's visit relates to the meeting of the Indo-Russia CEOs council, co-chaired by Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the CEO of the Sistema group (which promotes its telecom services in India under the MTS brand).

Both are expected to forge an economic bilateral agenda over the next few years and break the abysmally low self-fulfilling prophecy of minimal trade and even less investment, although it isn't clear right now how they intend to do so.

Jyoti Malhotra
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