With China, reducing the tension on the border was important but with Russia, a trusted all-weather partner, increasing trade ties and stepping up defence and atomic energy cooperation could be on agenda
SOCHI, RUSSIA: The laid-back balmy weather of Sochi on the coast of the Black Sea is the ideal location where the first-ever informal summit will be held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
The summit is likely to be held at the private 'dacha' or villa of Mr Putin set against the currently pre-monsoon like pleasant weather of the Black Sea resort. Sochi shot to fame when it successfully conducted the Winter Olympic Games in 2014. Hidden on a mountain side and unmarked on maps is the massive private residence of Mr Putin, which is supposed to have cost nearly $1 billion. It is said Mr Putin loves Sochi very much and on May 18, Mr Putin hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel here.
Mr Putin and PM Modi may take a walk along the famous stony beaches in Sochi. The town itself is currently being spruced up for the 2018 FIFA World Cup to be hosted in Sochi among other locations in Russia next month.
PM Modi is flying in only for a day for this summit at the "invitation of Mr Putin" and it comes close on the heels of the unique "informal summit" held between India and China recently in Wuhan. This is a new way Mr Modi is handling foreign policy through a deeply personalised touch.
A statement by India's Ministry of External Affairs spells out some details suggesting that "this will be an important occasion for the two leaders to exchange views on international matters in a broad and long-term perspective with the objective of further strengthening our special and privileged strategic partnership".
Both leaders will also discuss their respective national developmental priorities and bilateral matters ... [and] is in keeping with the tradition of regular consultations between India and Russia at the highest levels, the ministry said.
During informal summits, world leaders can get a better understanding of global issues in the absence of pre-set agendas. With China, reducing the tension on the border was important but with Russia, a trusted all-weather partner, increasing trade ties and stepping up defence and atomic energy cooperation could be priority.
The meltdown of the Iranian nuclear deal after the US unilaterally pulled out of it would come up for sure, especially since India has 'civilizational links' with Iran. The patch up happening between North and South Korea over nuclear weapons is also going to be on the table. But closer home, atomic talks related to Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant are also likely to be part of the summit.
PM Modi is expected to reassert India's avowed position of complete denuclearisation of these weapons of mass destruction from the world.
Indo-Russian atomic energy cooperation could also be reviewed at the highest level. Reports suggest that India has invested nearly $5 billion in the Russian energy sector. Bilateral civil nuclear co-operation could be very high on the agenda.
Two Russian-made 1000 MW atomic power plants are already working at Kudankulam and two more plants are already under construction. The first pair came at a cost of about Rs. 20,000 crore and the next at Rs. 40,000 crore with localisation amounting to about Rs. 12,000 crore, say sources at India's Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).
The two leaders may give that much-needed final bilateral push for the completion of the contract for the third pair of reactors at Kudankulam. The last of the two 1000 MW reactors at Kudankulam could come at a cost of Rs. 50,000 crores and PM Modi may assert that Russia accept a lot more of localisation of technology under his pet Make in India project. This would also help reduce the costs. India believes nuclear is an important carbon-free source of energy to mitigate climate change.
But atomic experts say, discussion on the second site for the Russian Nuclear Park would be on the anvil. In the 2014 Indo-Russian 'Strategic Vision' document on nuclear cooperation, the two countries have committed themselves to building in all 16 nuclear reactors in the next two decades. In all, six reactors will come up at Kudankulam and the remaining six at another site.
Today, it seems the next set of six reactors could come up in Andhra Pradesh. It is hoped that later this year in October, at the proposed formal summit, the two countries will announce the allotment of the second nuclear park site to Russia. India is hoping to order the updated and upgraded version of the Kudankulam light water reactors, each of these new ones would be 1200 MW and the first of those is already functioning Russia at Novovoronezh, some 500 km south off Moscow. It became operational in 2017.
Beyond that there could be third site where four reactors could be placed in the long run.
The Indo-Russian nuclear deal is well worth over Rs. 4,50,000 crores and could be the mother of all deals.
It may be worth noting that as part of the agreement for the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal, India has committed to buy 10,000 MW of reactors from USA and France. But unfortunately, both the French nuclear company Areva and the American atomic giant Westinghouse ran into financial trouble and declared bankruptcy, and the new owners are still taking charge in both the countries. In all possibility, India may not order either French or American reactors for the next three to four years till these 'new technologies' are safely operating.
In addition and not merely as a footnote, India's maiden nuclear venture abroad in Bangladesh could also be discussed. At Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, almost on the Indian border, Bangladesh is making two Russian-made 1200 MW reactors.
India is getting to partner in these Bangladeshi reactors by providing training to Bangladeshi atomic engineers at Indian reactor sites. The three countries have signed a tripartite nuclear agreement on Rooppur, confirmed Anwar Hussain, Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology in Dhaka, who spoke exclusively to NDTV on the sidelines of the 10th edition of the Atomexpo exhibition held at Sochi. At least 3,000 participants from 68 countries presented an upbeat picture of the global nuclear industry at the exhibition.
(NDTV was in Sochi at the invitation of the Russian government)