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Defence tops agenda in first state visit of Indian president to Russia
Updated: 2005-05-23 20:12

MOSCOW - President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam began the first state visit of an Indian president to Moscow since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with growing Russian-Indian defence industry ties topping the agenda.

Kalam was meeting Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Boris Gryzlov, before holding talks Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin, at the start of a four-country tour that will also take in Switzerland, Iceland and Ukraine.

Although Kalam's post is mainly ceremonial under India's constitution, he is also the architect of the country's nuclear missile programme and his visit was seen as a sign of the growing importance of Russian-Indian economic and diplomatic ties.

"The strategic partnership of Russia and India is actively developing, something which is helped by our close geopolitical positions," Gryzlov was quoted as saying by RIA Novoti news agency on Monday.

Gryzlov said trade between the two giant countries reached 4.1 billion dollars last year.

At the heart of these relations are weapons and nuclear energy deals, something Kalam was underlining Monday with a visit to the design bureau of the Sukhoi military aircraft builders.

On Tuesday he was to visit Mashinostroyeniye -- the Russian manufacturer in a joint project to build the anti-ship missile BrahMos, which the two countries plan to export.

Russia meets 70 percent of India's weapons requirements and the Russian ambassador to New Delhi, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, said Moscow was eyeing construction of naval and air force technical service centres.

"These would work not only for India, but for the countries of southeast Asia -- Malaysia, Indonesia. The Indians are ready for this. The decision mostly depends on our government now," Trubnikov said in an interview with Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazyeta newspaper on Monday.

Moscow would also like to consider a relaxation of international restrictions to allow Russia to expand construction of nuclear power stations in India, where two reactors are already being built, Trubnikov said. "This is very profitable for us. Russian businesses will work, jobs will be created."

Following India's nuclear tests in 1998, Russia, the United States and other nuclear powers placed tight controls on export of sensitive technologies. India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that forbids such sales to countries refusing international monitoring of their nuclear facilities.

However, Trubnikov said that among Russia's partners "a view is emerging that we have somehow to look again at relations between India and the group of nuclear powers."

According to Russia's foreign ministry, Indian-Pakistani relations will also be discussed, as well as a planned meeting of the foreign ministers of China, India and Russia in the Russian city of Vladivostok on June 2.

Kalam is also due to receive an honorary degree from the Russian Academy of Sciences and to speak to students at the prestigious Moscow State University.

On Wednesday, he will visit Russia's second city Saint Petersburg and visit the Hermitage museum, before leaving for the rest of his tour.

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