In a clear attempt to allay Russia's apprehensions, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said it will remain an "indispensable" partner for India's defence needs even as he underlined that the bilateral ties should adapt to changing times to address challenges.
Singh hailed the India-Russia relations, saying it is marked by "abiding comfort with each other" and the warmth and goodwill between the people ensure that the strategic partnership will continue to grow in strength and relevance in the changing world.
He highlighted various elements of partnership covering the fields of nuclear energy, defence, hydrocarbons and trade besides cooperation in international matters to portray the promising future for the relationship.
"Even this brief overview of the fruits of our cooperation should be enough to justify fully the description of our relationship as a special and privileged strategic partnership," Singh said in his address at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Noting that observers may well ask how this relationship could be taken to greater heights," he said, "I am convinced that while the strength and the intensity of our relationship will remain undiminished, it must also adapt itself to the changing times so that we can address the full range of current opportunities and challenges. I am also sure that, as in the past, we shall face these challenges together."
At the bilateral level, the prime minister said, "while Russia will remain an indispensable partner for our defence needs, our future defence partnership must be increasingly based on technology transfer, joint ventures and co-development and co-production."
The statement assumes significance as India has lately been looking at new vendors like the US and Israel for its military hardware, creating apprehensions in Russia which has been long-standing major supplier of the defence equipment.
"We also see Russia as a key partner for our energy security. We have an ambitious long-term plan of cooperation in nuclear energy. The programme of cooperation in hydrocarbons that we are drawing up will further intensify our partnership in oil and gas and renewable energy sources," he said.
Acknowledging that Russia has stood by India at moments of great international challenge, when its own resources were limited and friends were few, Singh said, "beyond all the assistance that we have received, it is this last fact that Indians will never forget."
The prime minister said that the people of India regard Russian friendship and support as something particularly precious.
Singh stressed that over the past six decades, no country has had closer relations with India and no country inspires more admiration, trust and confidence among the people of India than Russia.
Highlighting the cooperation between India and Russia, Singh pointed out that Russia was the first country with which, in 2000, India signed a Declaration of Strategic Partnership and began the process of annual summits.
Describing India's relationship with Russia as "unmatched by any other relationship," Singh cited examples of defence cooperation like the soon to be commissioned aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, the nuclear submarine INS Chakra leased to India by Russia and the joint development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft and the Brahmos Cruise Missile.
"Russia offered us partnership in nuclear energy when the world still shunned nuclear commerce with us...the first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, built with Russian assistance, went critical in July this year and that the second one should be commissioned early next year," he said.
Singh pointed out that the Indian oil company ONGC's largest overseas presence is in Russia and India's largest science and technology cooperation programme is also with Russia.
Noting that sustained expansion of trade and investment flows had added a new dimension to the bilateral relationship, Singh said, "We should harness the full potential of our two economies to impart even greater depth and dynamism to it."
"The unprecedented level of growth in tourism between India and Russia not only brings us economic benefits, but also deepens the contact between our peoples," he said.
Singh highlighted that one of the fundamental foundations of India's foreign policy is its partnership with Russia.
"We are both impacted by developments in our common neighbourhood, making our strategic partnership even more relevant than ever before," he said.
The prime minister stressed that there were four areas of particular importance in making the strategic partnership with Russia even more relevant.
The first, he said, were developments in Central and South-Central Asia that were of relevance to the security of both Russia and India.
"Our cooperation can play an important role in advancing peace, stability and economic development in Afghanistan. It can be equally effective in combating the shared challenges of extremism, terrorism and narco-trafficking," he said.
Singh pointed out that the second area of particular importance in making the ties more relevant was peace and stability in the Gulf and West Asia which was in the shared interest of Russia and India.
Thirdly, he said, India regards Russia as an important partner in shaping an inclusive, cooperative and rule-based regional security architecture in the Asia Pacific region, which is the focus of New Delhi's Look East Policy.
The fourth and final point that was crucial to the bilateral ties, Singh said was that as the world becomes increasingly multi-polar and emerging economies grow in strength, cooperation between Russia and India in multilateral forums, including the Group of 20 and BRICS, will assume greater importance.
"We have converging interests in non-proliferation, cyber security and space security. We also appreciate Russia's support for India's membership of international export control regimes and permanent membership of an UN Security Council," he said.
"India is our strategic partner. Most of our mutual achievements have been achieved under your leadership and I am grateful to you," Putin said in his opening remarks at his meeting with Singh.
He noted that the two countries have cooperation in different areas, including military and technological areas and are diversifying the economic relationship.
"Even at present we are having joint counter terrorism exercises going on in India," the Russian President said.
The two countries also have cooperation in political areas and are working together in the UN and BRICS, he pointed out.
Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their meeting in Moscow
Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters