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December 5, 2008

Russia, India to sign nuclear deal
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to hold talks with Indian leaders aimed at polishing ties with one of Russia's most reliable allies as well as signing a landmark new nuclear energy deal, reported AFP.

The visit is taking place under the shadow of the Mumbai attacks a week ago in which suspected Islamic militants killed 172 people. Medvedev has pledged to give India his full support in the fight against terrorism.

The Russian leader, whose visit was planned well before the attacks, is the first foreign head of state to visit the country after the bloodshed in Mumbai. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited on Wednesday.

The attacks brought back unwelcome memories for Russia of deadly sieges carried out by militants from the southern republic of Chechnya.

Medvedev is also set to sign a range of bilateral accords on cooperation in areas including space exploration, financial markets and tourism, presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said, according to the Interfax news agency.

But the cornerstone of his trip to New Delhi - whose strong ties with Moscow date back to the Soviet Union - is the signing of a new accord for Russia to build four new nuclear reactors to generate energy in southern India.

Moscow is already building two 1,000-megawatt light water nuclear reactors at Kudankulam and can now construct more after a group of nuclear supplier states in September lifted a ban on India shopping for nuclear technology.

Energy-hungry India has signed nuclear cooperation pacts with France and the United States since the ban was lifted but Russia until now has been the only foreign state in the Indian nuclear industry.

"We think that during my visit this area will make its biggest progress yet," Medvedev said in an interview with Indian state television channel Doordarshan, a transcript of which was released by the Kremlin.

Defence ties will also be discussed in the two-day visit, with Moscow keen to retain its position as India's main supplier of weaponry amid increasing competition from the United States and Israel.

Russia, which supplies 70 percent of Indian military hardware, has been concerned that its slice of the defence market risks becoming leaner amid disputes over costs and late deliveries.

Medvedev said in the television interview that current defence cooperation was "not enough" and there needed to be more projects such as the Bramos anti-ship cruise missile jointly developed by the two sides.

The wide main streets of central Delhi have been festooned with Russian flags to welcome Medvedev but the visit is taking place under the tightest security with a visible police presence.

The continued strength of ties between Moscow and New Delhi contrasts with the sometimes prickly relationship between Russia and India's longtime foe Pakistan.

Adding another common element, Medvedev is a keen exponent of the Indian art of yoga and has boasted of his ability to stand on his head.

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