Goa:India and Russia on Saturday announced plans to set up a joint venture to build helicopters in India, which will also buy surface-to-air missile systems from its former Cold War ally, as the two tighten their military relationship.
The pacts were signed after summit talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India's western resort state of Goa, where leaders from the BRICS group of emerging nations are meeting.
Indian military officials have said the plan is for the joint venture to build at least 200 Kamov helicopters required by the country's defence forces, and is part of Modi's drive to build a defence industrial base in the south Asian nation.
The S-400 surface-to-air missiles are meant to strengthen India's defences along its borders with China and Pakistan, Indian military officials have said.
Other heads of the BRICS club of leading emerging nations — Brazil, China and South Africa — were also gathering for this weekend's summit that is expected to focus on trade and counter-terrorism.
Putin is seeking to seal deals with India in an attempt to help revive Russia's recession-hit economy, following sliding oil prices and Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.
Among the agreements expected are Moscow's delivery of its most advanced anti-aircraft defence system to India, a deal that has been in the pipeline for several years.
India, the world's top defence importer, is undergoing a $100-billion upgrade of its Soviet-era military hardware, as it looks to protect its borders from arch-rival Pakistan and an increasingly assertive China.
Modi and Putin will also focus on strengthening energy ties to meet India's growing thirst for fuel and electricity for its fast-growing economy.
Russia's biggest oil company Rosneft is expected to acquire India's Essar Oil in a multi-billion-dollar deal, according to local media reports, quoting officials involved in the agreement.
“The menu is vast,” India's ambassador to Russia, Pankaj Saran said at a briefing on the talks, without detailing the deals to be signed.
“It is more than a relationship, it is a partnership and very justifiably it has been described by the two leaders as both special and privileged, as well as of course strategic,” he said.
“It is very deep and very intense and it is poised to grow even further.”
Saran said he also expected them to discuss India's tensions with neighbour Pakistan, which spiked after last month's attack on the Uri army base that killed 19 soldiers.
Modi has sought to isolate Pakistan internationally since the attack that India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Subsequently, India claimed to have conducted "surgical strikes" against militants over the border in Pakistan. All such claims were rubbished by civil and military leadership in Pakistan.
“We have conveyed our views to the Russian side. We are confident that Russia will reflect upon our concerns,” Saran said.
But Putin is seen as unlikely to weigh into the dispute between the rivals, as Moscow also eyes closer defence ties with Islamabad. Russia and Pakistancarried out their first joint military exercise last month.
Air defence system
In beachside Goa, the two leaders will reach agreement on Moscow's delivery of the S-400 Triumph defence system, Russian news agencies quoted a Putin aide as saying on Friday, without detailing a timeframe.
The S-400 is Russia's most modern air defence system and has been deployed to Syria, where Moscow is conducting a bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad, its long-time ally.
India was the erstwhile Soviet Union's closest military ally during the Cold War and a major importer of its military hardware. But in recent years Delhi has turned to the United States for supplies, as the two nations forge stronger ties.
The ties between India and Russia date back to the 1950s after the death of Stalin. But trade has slipped from just $10 billion in 2014, which both sides have said is not good enough.
Modi will also hold talks with China's President Xi Jinping late Saturday, in the hope of boosting investment and trade, but with relations frustrated by Beijing's decision so far to block New Delhi's entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, among other issues.
China and India, the world's two most populous nations, are jockeying for regional influence in Asia.
Modi will also host a dinner for the BRICS leaders, ahead of the summit talks starting on Sunday at a plush beachside resort.
BRICS was formed in 2011 with the aim of using its growing economic and political influence to challenge Western hegemony.
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