'Close friends' Putin and Modi vow to boost military, trade ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak during a joint press conference ahead of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 4. 

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised his "close friend" Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday as the pair said they would work to boost military, trade and energy ties.

The leaders met on the first day of Russia's economic forum in the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok, an annual event since 2015 as Moscow looks to bolster relations with Asia amid tensions with the West.

"I'm very grateful to my close friend Vladimir Putin for this opportunity," Modi said at a press conference following talks and a tour of a naval shipyard.

"We have reached a new stage in collaboration," he said, adding that the pair discussed "unprecedented" mutual investment in oil and gas industries.

A joint statement called for cooperation in military and technological spheres, with the possibility of creating joint ventures in India to develop and manufacture civilian aircraft.

It also called for a reorganization of the UN Security Council to reflect the "global realities" of a multipolar world.

For his part, Putin hailed his "great friend, Mr. Modi" and said India was "our strategic partner."

"Special attention was paid to trade and economic cooperation in the talks," he said, though details of major trade deals were not immediately announced.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also to visit Vladivostok, along with Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

But Putin was spending most of his time on Wednesday with Modi, who in an interview ahead of the meeting spoke of the "special chemistry" he shared with the Russian leader.

"With each meeting with President Putin, we get closer and our relationship grows," he told the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Modi pointed out that mutual ties also extend to nature, as every year "Siberian cranes migrate to my home state Gujarat". The Indian leader said he wanted to discuss tiger conservation with Putin, a lover of big cats.

After shaking hands warmly on Modi's arrival, the two men boarded a Russian navy patrol ship and headed to the Zvezda shipyard about 40 kilometers (25 miles) across a bay from Vladivostok.

Arms deals 

India is a key client for Russia's arms industry and trade between the two countries amounted to approximately $11 billion in 2018.

Russia and India in 2015 signed a $1 billion agreement to jointly make Kamov Ka-226 military helicopters, part of the "Make in India" initiative to encourage foreign companies to manufacture their products there. But the deal has been pushed back repeatedly.

A major global arms importer looking to modernize its armed forces, India is keen to produce more on its own soil, and in March launched a joint venture with Russia to manufacture AK-203 assault rifles.

Rostec, the umbrella corporation that controls Kamov, is "hopeful" that the summit can kickstart the helicopter project, its director for international cooperation, Viktor Kladov, said last week.

India last year purchased the Russian S-400 advanced air defense systems for over $5 billion, with deliveries to be made by 2023, defying US warnings of sanctions on countries buying Russian arms.

— Agence France-Presse

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