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'No wrinkles in Indo-Russian relationship'
Nikhil Lakshman in Moscow
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November 11, 2007 20:39 IST
Last Updated: November 14, 2007 18:28 IST

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon on Sunday declared that talk of a chill in the Indo-Russian relationship was "very far fetched."

Speaking to the media aboard Air India 001, ferrying Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] to Moscow [Images], Menon said, "This is one relationship without any wrinkles or difficulties."

The foreign secretary was reacting to an inquiry whether Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's refusal to meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the latter's visit to Moscow last month, coupled with Russian insistence that Dr Manmohan Singh meet Russian Premier Viktor Zubkov on this visit, indicated a winter chill had set in in a relationship usually in the midst of an Indian summer.

"This does not reflect the reality," Menon insisted, "I was privy to the minister's meeting with Minister Lavrov in Harbin (China) and the quality of conversation was excellent."

National Security Adviser M K Narayanan interjected that talk of a chill was a "wrong perception."

"I discuss extremely sensitive issues (with the Russians)," he said, "and they cannot exist in a chill."

"In fact, it (the India-Russian relationship) is so warm it is almost hot," the national security adviser quipped, adding that in terms of friendship, "the relationship has never been so strong."

Among the many issues that will come up for discussion at the hour-long, one-on-one interaction between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Vladimir Putin [Images] -- the time span of such an interaction, Narayanan concluded, is remarkable -- will be an inter-governmental agreement for the Russians to build four nuclear reactors in Tamil Nadu.

The issue, which the Russians first raised during President Putin's visit to New Delhi in January, may be signed during this visit; Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dr Anil Kakodkar's presence in the prime ministerial entourage indicator of this possibility.

Neither Narayanan nor Menon would commit to the possibility that the Russian offer could help India's case at the Nuclear Suppliers Group -- considering that the India-United States nuclear agreement is in limbo -- but their body language indicated that a treaty with the Russians was likely.

"Russia [Images] has really gone out in the past," Menon said, "We don't want to pressure our friendship, but we are looking for help from Russia and other countries to secure an exemption from the NSG."

The prime minister's visit to Moscow is likely his shortest visit overseas, spanning just a day-and-a half.

"It shows the quality of the relationship that we can speak at the highest level (in this time frame)," Menon said, adding that "we cannot take a kabaadiwallah (ragpicker) approach to a summit."

The amount of time that Dr Singh and Putin and their delegations will spend is what the Indian leader would spend on other visits; only the extraneous encounters with academicians and the likely have been eliminated from this visit since Parliament will reconvene this week and Dr Singh is eager not to waste time preparing for what is clearly an important winter session.

"We have a solid basis for a future relationship," Menon said, reflecting on the Indo-Russian equation in the post-Putin era -- the Russian leader restored amity and purpose in the relationship after the drift of the Yeltsin years -- will remit office in May at the end of two terms in office.

"The relationship is solid, not dependant on subjective factors and has proven its quality over time," he said.

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