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Russia, India Sign Energy Deals As Putin Looks On

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at The World Diamond Conference at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, on December 11
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at The World Diamond Conference at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, on December 11

Russia has signed deals to build nuclear power plants in India and supply it with oil during a visit by President Vladimir Putin, who is trying to recharge a long-standing friendship amid severe strains in Moscow's relations with the West.

Russian and Indian officials signed several deals as Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked on after lengthy talks in New Delhi on December 11.

Modi said the agreement between Russian state nuclear company Rosatom and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) calls for the construction of 10 more reactors for nuclear power plants in India.

Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko said earlier in the day that a separate agreement was signed for construction of two more units at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, where Rosatom has already built two reactors.

Two of the 10 additional reactors are to be built at the Kudankulam plant, bringing the total number of units there to six, while six other reactors are to be built at a new site -- tentatively planned to be located near Kudankulam. It was not immediately clear whether the other two would be built.

Russian state oil giant Rosneft and India's ESSAR also signed a preliminary agreement under which Russia could ship some 10 million tons of oil to India during the next decade.

Rosneft head Igor Sechin said deliveries could start in 2015 and that the contract could be prolonged if the two parties wish.

Another state-controlled Russian company, Zarubezhneft, signed a memorandum of understanding with Oil India, while Russian gas giant Gazprom held discussions with India's GAIL for deliveries of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Russian energy companies including Rosneft have been targeted by U.S. and EU sanctions imposed over Moscow's interference in Ukraine and have stepped up efforts to do deals with non-Western nations, mostly in Asia.

Modi said he and Putin had also discussed the possible production in India of "one of [Russia's] most advanced helicopters," which could be used for both military and civilian purposes, with an eye toward exporting the aircraft to third countries.

But there were no major arms deals between Russia and India, long a big buyer of Russian weapons, and both nations have said economic ties have fallen short of potential inherent in a relationship that stretches back to the Soviet era.

Putin lamented before the meeting with Modi started that bilateral trade between the two countries had reached only some $10 billion in 2013, a figure he said was "insufficient."

"We will devote particular attention to expanding trade and economic links and boosting mutual investments," Putin said.

Trade between Russia and China -- the main focus of Putin's increased attention to Asia amid his standoff with the West over Ukraine -- is about ten times that amount.

India's recent decision to buy French Rafale fighters and U.S.-made Apache helicopters has angered Moscow, and India has sometimes complained in recent years about the quality of Russian arms.

For its part, India is concerned over Moscow's decision to sell attack helicopters to rival Pakistan.

Despite the strains, India -- a partner of Russia in the BRICS group of emerging market economies -- has backed Moscow by refusing to join the United States and EU in imposing sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists whose war with government troops has killed 4,300 people in eastern Ukraine.

Reuters reported that the top Russian official in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, arrived in New Delhi for unofficial talks on December 11 and met a Mumbai businessman to discuss trade with the Black Sea region.

Askyonov told reporters his visit was "private," but he wrote on Twitter that he was in India as a "member of the delegation under the leadership of the president of the Russian federation, Vladimir Putin."

Aksyonov was elected at a closed session of the regional parliament after Russian forces took control of the Crimean Peninsula in February, and he subsequently led the campaign for a referendum the Kremlin used to justify its seizure of the region.

The West says Russia's annexation of Crimea was illegal, and Aksyonov's presence could displease the United States ahead of a visit to India by President Barack Obama next month for the democratic nation's Republic Day celebrations.

With reporting by Interfax, AFP, Reuters, and TASS