Russian PM to visit India next month

By Manish Chand, IANS

Moscow : India-Russia ties are set to scale new heights when Russian Prime Minister Victor Zubkov goes Feb 12 on his maiden visit to India with a retinue of business tycoons and cultural impresarios as he kicks off a Year of Russia in India.

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President Vladimir Putin was expected to visit India, but with parliamentary elections round the corner he has decided to stay back and send his prime minister instead.

“He was expected to inaugurate the Year of Russia in India. But he won’t be going this time. He may still come to India towards the end of the year,” a Russian official, who did not wish to be named, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

“The Russian prime minister will go to India Feb 12 with a large business delegation and to open the Year of Russia in India. We are all excited about it,” said Vladimir V. Grigoriev, a senior executive with the Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communications.

The Year of Russia in India will be an elaborately choreographed culture festival that will include literary soirees (some of leading Russian writers will be present at the World Book Fair where Russia will be the guest of honour), and the delights of Russian cinema, art, cuisine and music. Next year, it will be India’s turn to strut on the Russian stage.

Eugenia Vanina, head of Indian Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, feels that culture is the glue that binds the two great nations.

“One can say strategic partnership 100 times, but it becomes a meaningless phrase until people read literature in the other’s languages,” says Vanina, who has translated a score of ancient and contemporary Indian classics into Russian.

Cultural diplomacy will mingle with hard business when the Russian prime minister Feb 12 opens the second India-Russia trade and investment forum, to be attended by over 100 industrial czars of both countries, that is designed to smooth out glitches hobbling trade between the two strategic partners.

For all the rhetoric about “time-tested ties”, bilateral trade has been sluggish in picking up (less than $4 billion) and the two-way investments are still nothing much to cheer about due to a slew of problems, not least of which is the difficult Russian visa process.

Information deficit – a shocking lack of knowledge about business environments of each other’s country – is another factor locking up the full potential of business ties even as Russian economy shows signs of opening up to embrace a globalised world.

To bridge this gap, Russia plans to set up a special information centre in New Delhi, said Tatiana Shaumian, an academic at the Institute of Oriental Studies.

Russian telecom giant Sistema has already found a toehold in the Indian market and many more top-billing companies are eyeing the lucrative Indian market in sectors like construction, hotels and energy.

Although Zubkov’s visit is designed to be strictly business, political issues, including civil nuclear cooperation and Russian heartburns over a bilateral nuclear pact that could not be signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Russia last November, will also figure in discussions.