New Delhi, Oct 22: Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India, earlier expected Oct 31-Nov 1, has been deferred to Dec 24, triggering speculation about differences over contentious issues like civil nuclear liability and a key Russian investment in India.
The external affairs ministry Monday tersely announced that Putin will pay an official visit to India on Dec 24 for the 13th annual India-Russia summit.
It is very unusual for the ministry to announce the date of visiting heads of state and government over two months ahead of the visit.
Although no official announcement of Putin's visit was made by either side, it was clear during Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin's visit to India over a week ago that Putin will hold the annual summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here Nov 1.
No reason was ascribed for the delay. Official sources attributed the delay to scheduling problems and pointed to the busy diplomatic calendars of both leaders in the coming weeks.
Highly-placed sources, however, pointed out that Russia is extremely unhappy over India's failure to secure Russian telcom company Shyman Sistema's $3.1 billion investment in India. There are also serious differences over resolving civil nuclear liability issues with the proposed units III and IV of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
During his visit to India Oct 16, Rogozin did not name Sistema's $3.1 billion investment in a joint venture in India, but obliquely warned India not to "reconsider the rules of the game once the game has begun".
"And we should hold the rules till the game is over," he said and stressed that it was "very important to fulfil the agreements".
If there are scandals, this will scare business communities, he stressed.
Sistema's $3.1 billion investment in the joint venture, SSTL, suffered a blow with the Supreme Court's order in February cancelling all 122 licences (including that of Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd. that operates the MTS brand of mobile-phone services in India) on allegations of bribery and corruption in the allocation of 2G spectrum.
Sistema Shyam has filed a petition before the Supreme Court, asking it to set aside the verdict cancelling its licences. The court-ordered 2G spectrum auction is expected to begin Nov 12 with Oct 19 having been the last date for applications for potential bidders.
At that time, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had said that he would not be able to comment on the project as the matter was sub-judice, but assured Rogozin that India will work with Russia on a strategy to promote economic relations.
Another key issue that requires some intense negotiations to resolve is the way forward on units III and IV of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
During his visit, Rogozin said that if there are issues that require additional assurance, then it will require additional money, indicating that the price of these reactors may have to be renegotiated.
Russia has contended that the civil nuclear liability law should not apply to these units as the agreement on them predates the 2010 civil liability law, and could be seen as "grandfathered" by the original 1988 agreement.
India has indicated that it is ready for price escalation, but has made it clear that it will not compromise its civil nuclear liability regime. The price negotiations for units III and IV are to be decided by a techno-commercial panel.