Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday left on a two-day visit to Russia that is expected to take the already close strategic partnership between the two countries to a higher trajectory as he said the trip will deepen bilateral cooperation in economic, energy and security spheres.
Setting the tone for the visit, the prime minister said Russia remained one of India's "most valued" friends in the world and that he was "very optimistic" about outcomes of the annual summit talks with President Vladimir Putin tomorrow.
"Our relation with Russia is unique, covering almost every field of human endeavour," said Modi before leaving for Moscow. The "time-tested" partners are likely to ink a number of pacts in a range of sectors, including nuclear energy and defence, after the 16th summit talks between the two countries at the highest level which have been taking place alternately in Moscow and New Delhi since 2000.
"I am very optimistic about the outcome of this visit. History is witness to the close ties India and Russia have had over the decades. Russia remains one of India's most valued friends in the world," Modi said in a Facebook post.
He added, "My visit will deepen the cooperation between India and Russia in the economic, energy and security spheres. We also want to increase cooperation in science and technology, mining, among other sectors. Trade ties between India and Russia can increase even further, to benefit not only our two nations but also the world."
On Thursday, Modi and Putin will interact with a group of Indian and Russian CEOs in Kremlin.
The Prime Minister's engagements in Moscow also include addressing a gathering of 'Friends of India' and around 3,000 people are expected to attend the event tomorrow.
"The visit will witness extensive deliberations with President Putin. There will be an interaction with Russian businesspersons to invite them to invest in India. I will also attend a 'Friends of India' programme. I am certain that this visit will substantially take forward the already strong people to people ties between our nations," the prime minister said.
Modi also recalled accompanying former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his trip to Russia in 2001. Modi was then the chief minister of Gujarat.
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had on Tuesday said that India expects to sign a number of agreements covering a very broad range of fields.
He said expanding economic ties would be a "very big priority" as the two countries were aiming at enhancing annual bilateral trade to $30 billion over the next 10 years from current $10 billion.
Besides bilateral issues, Modi and Putin are likely to deliberate on a number of global issues having political dimensions, including the situation in Syria and ways to tackle terrorism.
"This would be definitely one of the most important engagements for us," Jaishankar said.
The foreign secretary said India was looking at deeper engagement in Russia's oil and coal sector besides stepping up cooperation in some other areas like diamond trade and agro-business.
Energy-starved India, the third-largest oil importer after the United States and China, has been pushing for greater involvement in major gas and oil exploration projects in Russia. Russia is one of the top oil producers globally and has huge reserves of natural gas.
India is also likely to push for a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Zone and is sharing details of a study it conducted in this regard.
Without giving specific details, Jaishankar said that Modi and Putin will deliberate on enhancing cooperation in defence and nuclear energy spheres.
Last week, the defence ministry's top acquisition council had cleared the purchase of Russian S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems at an estimated cost of Rs 40,000 crore.
On whether India will request Russia to share details on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, he said the issue had figured during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's recent visit to Moscow. "Let's wait and see what happens. I do not prejudge the Russian response till we get it," he had said.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at AFS Palam in New Delhi on Wednesday before his departure for Moscow, Russia . Photograph: Shahbaz Khan/PTI