Russian president wraps up India trade trip in Mumbai

22nd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday wrapped up a short trip to India during which he focused on reviving ties between the two Cold War allies to offset approaches by Western powers.

Medvedev squeezed in a tour of the Taj Mahal before heading to the country's financial hub Mumbai to meet students at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and visit a Bollywood film studio.

His departure on Wednesday evening ended a flurry of diplomacy in which the leaders of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council have visited India in recent months.

The Russian leader, dressed casually in an open-neck shirt and jacket, told IIT students that his country backed fast-growing India's totemic foreign policy ambition -- a permanent security council seat.

"We do support India's bid," he said to loud applause. "India is a major state and has a right to be represented... Russia will not be found wanting for support."

Medvedev's visit to the university came nearly half a century after Leonid Brezhnev planted a sapling on the campus grounds before he became leader of the former Soviet Union.

"Doubtless the ties that were established back in the 1950s have not disappeared," he said through a translator. "They used to be stronger... The ties should be bolstered and scaled up, if not to Soviet levels, but more."

On Tuesday, Medvedev held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and witnessed the signing of a raft of defence and nuclear deals potentially worth billions of dollars.

The two sides also agreed to double bilateral trade to 20 billion dollars by 2015.

"I believe that trade between us does not nearly reflect our privileged partnership," Medvedev told reporters at a joint press briefing.

One standout deal was a contract on the joint design and development of fifth-generation fighter aircraft with stealth capabilities.

Although no figures were mentioned, experts say the final fighter deal could be worth close to 30 billion dollars, with India planning to induct up to 300 of the aircraft into its air force.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was in the country in July, and US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have passed through over the last six weeks.

Each visitor brought large-scale business delegations and used their visits to trumpet new deals with the world's second-fastest-growing major economy.

Medvedev was keen to fend off growing international competition for a slice of India's increasingly lucrative market for military hardware -- once monopolised by Moscow.

Traditionally India's default defence supplier, Russia now has to compete with top manufacturers from Europe and the United States as India diversifies its sources of military hardware and becomes more demanding over pricing and quality.

As well as bilateral issues, Medvedev and Singh discussed regional security and agreed to deepen counter-terrorism cooperation.

His visit to Mumbai came amid heightened security after police revealed an intelligence warning of a possible militant attack targeting foreigners over Christmas and New Year.

The Press Trust of India, quoting unidentified official sources, said the possible strike could be carried out by the banned Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India blames for the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

Police promised "extensive security arrangements" as Medvedev's visit coincided with a two-day trip to the city by his Indian counterpart, Pratibha Patil, whom he met in Delhi on Tuesday.

© 2010 AFP

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