M A I N   N E W S

PM woos Russian businessmen
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

Moscow, December 5
With people-to-people contact between India and Russia on the wane and bilateral trade between the two far below expectations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today went all-out to sell India as an attractive business, academic and creative destination to the new generation of Russians.

Clearly days of “Hindi-Russi bhai-bhai” are now a thing of the past while the craze for Raj Kapoor’s “Awara” and “Mera Naam Joker” is a distant memory here as popular Hollywood fare is the preferred choice of young Russians. Similarly, trade volumes between the two traditional Cold War friends have been stagnating as both India and Russia look to China and the US for business opportunities.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged this anomaly in the relationship between India and Russia in his speech at a joint meeting of Indian and Russian businessmen and in his address at the Moscow State University where he was awarded the title of “Professor Honoris Causa” on the second day of his visit to Russia.

Referring to the nostalgia for Raj Kapoor among the older generations, the Prime Minister urged young Russians to “come and discover a new generation of Raj Kapoors and the new music that your generation in India taps its feet to.” While asking them to “listen to the heartbeat of a new India”, the Prime Minister also made a strong pitch for increased academic exchange between the two countries while identifying the spheres of energy and space where they can work together.

In fact, the energy sector was specially highlighted as a key area of interest by the Prime Minister at his joint meeting with Indian and Russian businessmen and in his interaction with Russian oligarchs or the captains of Russian industry, who were asked to visit India and explore the potential of doing business in each other’s country.

The same was underlined at his meeting with Russian energy and industry minister Viktor Khristenko.

At this meeting, which precedes his annual summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin tomorrow, both leaders agreed on developing a long-term energy partnership and decided that India and Russia would explore oil and gas assets both in production and explorations in third world countries like the Central Asian region. While reviewing progress on the ongoing Koodamkulam project, New Delhi also responded positively to the Russian request to construct additional nuclear reactors in view of India’s growing energy needs.

This was a clear signal that nuclear energy is set to play a pivotal role in India-Russia economic relations since international restrictions on technology transfer to India are expected to be lifted shortly. India is obviously looking to Russia for greater involvement in its nuclear energy programme, going beyond the ongoing project.

Dr Manmohan Singh referred to India’s investment in Sakhalin-I and interest in Sakhalin-III, which was appreciated by the Russians, and the dialogue between ONGC, GAIL, Roseneft and Gazprom, which, he said, is gaining momentum.

Asking the business communities to seize the initiative, the Prime Minister also informed them that India was working on an agreement to permit the utilisation of the remaining rupee debt for Russian investments in India as their bilateral trade was moving from the rupee-rouble arrangements to becoming a fully market determined phenomenon.

While Dr Manmohan Singh repeatedly asked both sides to stem the decline in their trade relations, the Indian business delegation, comprising heads of the CII and FICCI, who met the Prime Minister separately, apprised him of the roadblocks they face in doing business in Russia.

They specifically mentioned the difficult visa regime as well as lack of information, a weak financial base and lack of transport links in this connection. 


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