Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won support for Rosatom to build a dozen ultrasafe nuclear reactors in India, part of more than $10 billion in deals in energy, arms, telecoms and other cooperation signed during his visit Friday. The trip, Putin’s first to India since December 2007, came as Moscow is driving to maintain its position on the lucrative markets for arms and nuclear energy, even as India boosts cooperation with rival suppliers like the United States and France.
Putin promoted safety as one of the Russian reactors’ biggest selling points, saying the International Atomic Energy Agency has called them among the world’s safest and that Russia had learned lessons from the 1986 explosion in Chernobyl. “Unlike other reactors that are being built in the world, ours can survive a direct hit by a midrange airplane weighing several tons,” Putin said, Interfax reported. “We have a big national program to develop atomic energy. … Naturally, we, using this technology at home, in Russia, are starting with the necessity of providing safety above all else.”
Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, who accompanied Putin on the trip, said half of the 12 reactors would be finished between 2012 and 2017 under a road map for nuclear cooperation signed Friday. The figure includes reactors that Rosatom unit Atomstroiexport is already building at Kudankulam, he said. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia hoped to build a total of 16 reactors in India, and officials in New Delhi said ahead of the visit that Moscow would be invited to bid for the contracts alongside Washington and Paris. Financial terms of the nuclear cooperation were not announced, but Kiriyenko said last year that India — which is seeking to raise its nuclear capacity fivefold by 2020 — was offering “tens of billions of dollars” in work.
Putin and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, signed an agreement to build the third and fourth generating units of Kudankulam nuclear power station. Putin also met with Indian President Pratibha Patil and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling coalition in the parliament. “No matter in what capacity I come to India, I always see that India, without any exaggeration, has been our strategic partner for many decades now,” Putin said at an Internet press conference with business and social representatives, according to comments posted on the government web site. “And that’s a reflection not only of the sympathy between the peoples of Russia and the peoples of India … but also, above all, evidence of the nearly complete coincidence of our geopolitical interests,” he said.
Singh was equally warm in his praise. “Putin has been the architect of the strategic partnership between India and Russia,” Singh said after meeting Putin, Reuters reported. “Relations with Russia are a key pillar of our foreign policy.” Moscow hosted Singh for talks in December, and Putin visited the country repeatedly during his presidency. President Dmitry Medvedev visited India in December 2008 and hosted a summit with the heads of the three other BRIC emerging market countries — Brazil, India and China — in June. The countries have sought to formalize their ties in recent months for greater clout in world economic and financial affairs.
Russia, which intends to double its trade with India to $20 billion by 2015, will open a free economic zone in the country, investing a total of $3 billion and attracting investors from third countries, Yury Medvedev, a deputy head of the Federal Property Management Agency, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Friday. The core of the project will be shaped by Titanium Products Private, a titanium joint-enterprise that will be set up as a means of repayment of Indian debt to Russia, he said. The enterprise will receive $120 million in investment, with 51 percent of shares owned by Russia. The results of this pilot project will be an indication of whether other countries may also repay their debts to Russia under similar plans, he said.
Moscow and New Delhi also agreed to cooperate in the hydrocarbon sector, Putin said Friday. “At the prime minister’s initiative, we agreed that we will … sign an intergovernmental cooperation agreement in this area soon,” he said. The two sides also signed off on a joint venture to be located in India that will produce navigation equipment compatible with both the Glonass system — developed by Russia — and its U.S. equivalent, GPS. During the Internet conference earlier Friday, Putin scolded foreign banks operating in Russia for capital outflows during the recession, despite the support they received from the government.
“Not all the countries included foreign banks in their stimulus programs, but we did it,” he said. “We did not impose limits on capital outflows amid the recession. Some foreign financial organizations working in Russia promoted capital outflows from Russia under these circumstances.” But Putin immediately sweetened the pill, saying the activity of the subsidiaries of foreign banks was market-driven. “They behaved very responsibly, and we have no necessity to lay serious claims against them.” Capital outflows hit $52.4 billion in 2009, according to the Central Bank, an improvement from a record $129.9 billion drain a year earlier.
Responding to a question about the negative image of Russia portrayed by the Western media, Putin said criticism was a pillar of free media. “The media have a task like that and a philosophy [which says] that it is necessary to criticize the authorities, and this is indeed right,” he said. “Despite the fact that somebody is drawing some kind of a negative picture, all international companies are actively working in Russia. I can’t recall a single company that was shipwrecked or was dissatisfied.” During the same meeting, Putin also praised Indian tea, calling it a long-standing family favorite. “People in my family mostly drank tea, almost no one drank coffee,” he said. “And making Indian tea was a special privilege.”