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Russian Leader In India To Boost Trade

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before their meeting in New Delhi on December 11.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before their meeting in New Delhi on December 11.

Facing economic woes at home and a tense confrontation with the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet Indian leaders during a visit that is expected to produce deals on nuclear power and defense.

Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss trade and energy cooperation when they meet on December 11 for what is billed as an annual summit.

Putin described New Delhi and Moscow's relationship as a "privileged strategic partnership" and said the construction of several new nuclear plants and defense industry cooperation with the longtime buyer of Russian weapons were high on his agenda for the trip.

"We will devote particular attention to expanding trade and economic links and boosting mutual investments," Putin said to Indian media early on December 11.

But bilateral trade reached only $10 billion in 2013, despite friendly ties that date back to the Soviet era, and analysts said the visit is unlikely to produce a breakthrough in a relationship an Indian official told Reuters "hasn't delivered in terms of economic potential."

Trade between Russia and China -- the main focus of Putin's pivot to Asia amid severe strains in ties with the West -- is about 10 times that amount.

India's recent decision to buy France's Rafale fighters and U.S. Apache helicopters has angered Moscow, India's traditional supplier of 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 sanctions against Russia over its role in the separatist struggle in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

Reuters reported that the top Russian official in annexed 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.

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.

Modi said he was "looking forward to a productive visit that will take India-Russia ties to newer heights," in a Twitter post late on December 10.

But Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, predicted that "no new ground will be broken" and "the potentially key relationship will remain adrift."

With Western sanctions biting, Russia is looking to expand energy links with Asian countries, according to experts.

Moscow is also seeking greater investment from Indian state-run companies in Russian oil and natural-gas projects.

Russia has supplied two nuclear reactors to a plant at Kudankulam in southern India under a long-delayed agreement, and will push to supply more under deals signed in 2010 and 2008.

Putin is also meeting with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and attending the World Diamond Conference.

Russia is the world's top producer of rough diamonds and the majority of them pass through India, where a cheap workforce cuts and polishes the gemstones before most are exported again for use in jewelry.

With reporting by dpa and AFP