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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

India and Russia reaffirm strategic partnership

Russia and India pledged Tuesday to share intelligence and work together to fight international terror as the two historic allies signed a clutch of agreements aimed at reinvigorating their relationship.

President Dmitry Medvedev held nearly two hours of talks Tuesday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hoping to boost trade and investment in both countries.

With Singh and Medvedev looking on, officials signed agreements to deepen cooperation in the nuclear energy, pharmaceutical and information technology sectors.

During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union shared a deep relationship, while the United States tilted toward India's neighbor Pakistan. In recent years, India has moved closer to the United States, but its strategic partnership with Russia has endured.

"Russia is a time-tested friend of India that has stood by us in our times of need," Singh told reporters after the talks.

The fight against terror was a major focus of discussions, the two leaders said.

Both countries have been the victim of major terrorist assaults, with Pakistan-based gunmen killing 166 people in the Indian city of Mumbai in a 60-hour siege in 2008, and Russia suffering a string of deadly attacks by Chechen rebels.

"We are determined to work together to cooperate in information and intelligence sharing and in devising effective counterterrorism strategies," Singh said.

Medvedev called for an agreement for the extradition of terrorist suspects.

"We have suffered seriously from terror attacks," Medvedev said, adding Russian and Indian "law enforcement agencies should cooperate."

India and Russia also agreed Tuesday to liberalize their visa regimes as part of plans to ease travel by Indian businessmen to Russia. Indian business leaders have long complained about the difficulty of getting multiple entry visas to Russia, which makes them prefer trade with other destinations in Southeast Asia or China.

On Monday, India and Russia signed an agreement to double bilateral trade from the current $10 billion to $20 billion over the next five years.

Medvedev is the last in a stream of powerful world leaders to visit India this year, underscoring how a country once seen as a global underachiever has emerged as a sought after trading partner for the world's flagging economies and an important regional power.

India was a key customer for Russian weapons during the Soviet era, purchasing military hardware worth billions of dollars. With India emerging as one of the largest buyers of fighter aircraft, tanks, submarines and other defense supplies in recent years, the leaders of France, Britain and the United States all worked to snare a part of that market during their visits here in recent months.

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