The first official meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took office in May, is expected to produce 20 agreements, mainly focused on energy, nuclear and defense cooperation.
At a press briefing in Delhi, the Russian Ambassador to India Alexander M. Kadakin said “Nuclear cooperation is item number one on the agenda,” adding that a "serious document" will be finalised.
“This visit is big for India and Russia. It is yet another chance to show that India and Russia are close, especially when they are giving Pakistan attack helicopters which we had not expected,” said Jacob Bonofer, research fellow at the Center for Asia Studies.
Russia approved a deal to sell helicopters to India's rival Pakistan in November, though Ambassador Kadakin said they were for civilian use and "Russia will never do anything to the detriment" of ties with India.
“Russia will be under ice for the next 4 months and it needs food, especially with European sanctions. We might just go back to the traditional way, Russia could benefit from our agriculture and they give us weapons,” said Bonofer.
Russia's economy has been hit by U.S. and E.U. sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine, but India refused to participate. India also abstained from a UN vote declaring Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine illegal. The sanctions have forced Russia to look towards a greater partnership with Asia, where it hopes to become the largest exporter of energy resources.
Russia secured a $400 billion gas deal with China in May and another, smaller, contract in November.
Russia has been a close defence partner of India. In December 2012, when Putin visited India, defence deals worth more than US$ 3.5 billion were signed for Mi-17 helicopters and Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets. The countries are working on joint projects including the Brahmos, a supersonic cruise missile, and fighter jet projects.
Since Modi became India's prime minister he has put more emphasis on relations with U.S., causing concern that India's historic relationship with Russia would weaken. India's ambassador to Russia P.S. Raghavan reportedly said: "India will not tolerate pressure from anywhere to change our longstanding relations with Russia," during a press briefing in early December, according to the Russian news website Sputnik.
Trade between India and Russia, which stands at $10 billion, however is barely 1 percent of India’s total exports and imports. "By going closer to the US we have alienated Russia. In the last few decades, trade with Russia has lagged,” explained Bonofer.
Russia's relationship with India is longstanding and stretches back to the cold war, when India was officially "non-aligned," officially supporting neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union. In 1965, after an India-Pakistan war, a peace deal between the two countries was signed at Tashkent, with the then Soviet Premier, as a broker.
Generations of young Russians growing up in the Soviet Union watched subtitled India films and viewing many of their actors as cultural icons. The Russian embassy sought to revive those links on Tuesday, ahead of the visit, releasing a volume of writing by Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin about his travels through India.