Sanctions-hit Putin visits India to boost ties

By Trudy Harris, AFP

NEW DELHI–Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held talks Thursday with India’s new prime minister as sanctions-hit Moscow seeks to strengthen energy, defense and strategic ties in Asia. Putin is looking to advance nuclear power, oil and natural gas and even diamond deals with longstanding ally India, on his first visit since Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power in May. The president is seeking new markets for Russia’s natural resources as its economy reels under U.S. and EU sanctions over its backing of an uprising in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Putin and Modi shook hands and smiled for the cameras on the steps of a former palace in New Delhi before heading inside for talks. ��He (Putin) wants to show the world that he isn’t isolated and to a certain extent he’s not — he still has the BRICS countries,�� Russia expert Nandan Unnikrishnan said, referring to the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. ��India now is all about development and it’s looking to Russia to share its technology on military hardware for making here,�� said Unnikrishnan, a senior fellow with Delhi-based think-tank the Observer Research Foundation. Putin is expected to focus on boosting two-way trade, which stands at just US$10 billion a year despite strong ties that date back to the 1950s after the death of Stalin. Since coming to power, Modi has sought closer ties with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has accepted an invitation to join India’s Republic Day celebrations in January. But India opposes joining Western sanctions against Russia, and is likely to disregard a caution from Washington that now is not the right time to do business with Moscow. The acting leader of Crimea, the strategic peninsula that Russia annexed in March, was also holding unofficial talks Thursday with business leaders in Delhi, a move likely to irk Washington. Kremlin loyalist Sergei Aksyonov was meeting the business leaders at an upscale hotel, a move aimed at ��widening business contacts and deepening economic cooperation�� between Crimea and India, a Russian embassy statement said.

Putin said before he arrived early Thursday that he would be seeking to strengthen their ��privileged strategic partnership,�� singling out more Russian-built reactors for energy-hungry India’s nuclear power plants. ‘Very strong’ Bond Modi tweeted on Thursday that the ��bond between the people of Russia and India is very strong,�� expressing hopes Putin’s visit would take the relationship to ��new heights.��