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PM's Moscow visit: Low-key but solid
Sheela Bhatt in Moscow | December 07, 2005 01:14 IST
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's just-concluded visit to Russia saw him and Russian President Vladimir Putin take calibrated steps to move the strategic partnership between the two countries ahead.
It was low on hype, but high on substance.
A crucial question ahead of the visit was whether Russia will help India in its nuclear energy programme. And if yes, then how, when, and at what cost?
Russia has helped India build two nuclear reactors at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu despite international sanctions against India, since Moscow had committed itself to the project before it became a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Now, as the Indian civilian nuclear market is set to open up, Russia is still assessing what it will gain if and when the United States Congress amends its laws and the NSG relaxes its guidelines.
Though India believes Russia is ready for business in the civilian nuclear sphere, the road to access to nuclear technology will not be as smooth as India believes.
It is in this context that the two sides provided a few clues with the deft use of words even while retaining enough ambiguity – something that is necessary in diplomacy.
Both sides seem to have taken into consideration the sensitivities of the anti-nuclear lobby that is working hard in Washington to scuttle India's chance of getting civilian nuclear energy.
Asked if Russia is prepared to play a leadership role in crafting a new framework that will allow it to co-operate actively with India in the civilian nuclear field, President Putin, citing the Koodankulam project, said, "Both India and Russia have been successfully co-operating in the nuclear energy sector. I provide you with a special example of successful co-operation in Koodankulam. India is taking all the necessary steps for building a relationship with the international community, including members of the NSG. India is separating military and peaceful nuclear programme."
Then, Putin gave a direct message that showed Russia's interest in helping India have many more reactors on the lines of Koodankulam.
He said, "We consider India as our strategic partner. We will work to ensure India solves all its problems and tasks that it is addressing, including use of nuclear energy."
However, Russia and India did not announce any new move on civilian nuclear relationship, nor was any news provided about fuel for the Tarapur project. But it was only to be expected, and understandable, in view of the complexities of the matter.
Ahead of his meeting with President Putin, Dr Singh had told the media he will take up the issue of fuel for Tarapur. But after the meeting, where former Russian prime minister and newly appointed head of the State Agency for Atomic Energy Sergei Kirienko was also present, both leaders were silent on all such issues.
It is however understood that Dr Singh raised the issue of fuel for Tarapur and that both sides decided that there will be more bilateral talks by experts.
It was obvious from Putin's remarks that Russia doesn't want to upset its own standing within the NSG, of which it is an influential member, with a few countries raising questions about the Indo-US nuclear deal.
But to India's satisfaction, President Putin did not say it in so many words that Russia will wait till India begins to separate its military and civil nuclear energy plants before it would resumed talking about the N-word.
'Sequencing' has become an issue that is plaguing the Indo-US nuclear agreement.
When the deal was signed, both sides agreed that they will simultaneously work within each other's country to ensure that the deal goes on smoothly.
But somehow, the US side has changed its tone and is now saying that without an appropriate roadmap to separate military and civilian projects, Congress will find it difficult to change American laws to facilitate the deal.
But in Moscow, old-fashioned diplomacy was at work.
And the Russians too showed enough signs that they are interested in business of all types.
Answering another question after meeting Dr Singh, President Putin said, "As India continues to settle its problems [later, it was said Putin used the word 'difficulties' and that the Russian interpreter translated it incorrectly!] in involving the use of peaceful nuclear energy with other countries, we hope Russia will have an opportunity to participate and contribute to huge projects and plans of India in the peaceful use of nuclear power."
But India surely knows Russia can't be taken for granted, that Indo-Russian relations are business-like and the rules of business will apply here too, always.