Building on a solid foundation

In initialling an agreement on cooperation in setting up additional nuclear power plants, India and Russia got around a glitch that had affected the long-standing relationship. The two countries can now start drafting commercial contracts, and perhaps even undertake some preparatory work, for constructing two additional reactors at Koodankulam. However, India may not be able to take further steps to operationalise the deal before it concludes negotiations with the Internat ional Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. These negotiations being held under the terms of the 123 agreement with the United States could break down. New Delhi has of course been bending over backwards in its efforts to stay on the right side of Washington. It was for this reason that India refrained from signing the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement even when it was pressed to do so by Russia's President Vladimir Putin during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow in November 2007. With the initialling of the bilateral agreement during Russian Prime Minister Victor Zubkov's return visit earlier this week, Moscow has been provided some assurance that it will have the inside track when the scope for India-oriented nuclear commerce is widened. India and Russia were able to sort out differences over the utilisation of the rupee debt fund, placed at Rs.8,000 crore, during Dr. Singh's November visit. In New Delhi, Mr. Zubkov announced that the newly launched titanium project in Orissa had been identified as a target for this fund. Given the depth of the strategic relationship between the two countries, the lack of a substantial increase in bilateral trade is disappointing. Future prospects do not look bright either, since the two countries think they can at best increase commerce between them from $3 billion to $10 billion by 2010. Whether expectations will be exceeded after a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is finalised is an open question. Mr. Zubkov has responded positively to the proposals put forward by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora for cross-investments in the energy sector. India is particularly interested in acquiring a stake in the Sakhalin III and other major petroleum projects in far-east Russia. India's commercial and industrial enterprises perhaps need to be reminded that there can be destinations other than the West. The cultural shows to be organised during the current "Year of Russia in India' will, hopefully, serve this purpose.

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