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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's five-day visit to Russia and China is among his last opportunities to salvage and firm up a foreign policy legacy. Having invested political capital in recasting India's relations with its neighbours as well as with global powers, Singh must use this chance to deepen India's engagement with the two countries. Moscow is a longstanding defence and strategic partner for India, but Beijing continues to be an enduring challenge. Far too often, Delhi has demonstrated a tendency to overlook the problems and focus, instead, on high-minded rhetoric. The prime minister should use this visit to inject some realism into India's dealings with both countries.
Bilateral trade between India and Russia remains stuck at around $10 billion, though it has begun to show signs of growth of late. While trade between India and China has grown to a more robust $70 billion, the balance of trade is heavily in Beijing's favour. It is critical for India to find a way to overcome the obstacles on both fronts. The PM must also use his time in Moscow to find a solution to the problems thrown up by the nuclear liability law, so that the construction of Kudankulam 3 and 4 can begin. Such a solution should also be broad enough to facilitate the participation of the US and France in India's nuclear sector, not just the Russians. It would be a bonus if Singh returned with the official sanction for a direct gas pipeline from Russia that can run parallel to the proposed TAPI pipeline. Notwithstanding South Block's scepticism about the project, its economic and energy benefits for India are significant.