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Russia and India struck new arms deals Wednesday as Moscow tried to retain its longtime position as the top weapons supplier to the Indian military amid growing Western competition.
The agreements on licensed production of Russian aircraft engines in India and the joint development of a new transport plane were signed on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India, which is expected to focus heavily on expanding military ties between the two old allies.
"The development of a close and trusting relationship with India is a top priority for Russia's foreign policy," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said after the signing of the agreements.
His Indian counterpart, A. K. Antony, hailed the "cordial, productive and mutually beneficial" military ties between the two countries.
India has bought more than US$30 billion of Soviet and Russian arms since the 1960s, and it has ranked alongside China in recent years as a top customer for Russia's weapons industry.
In the 1990s, the two sides struck several multibillion dollar deals for the licensed production of fighter jets and other weapons in India.
Russia is courting India to win a contract to supply it with 126 new fighter planes.
Russia's MiG aircraft maker is facing tough competition from U.S., French and Swedish companies, but the Russian defense minister voiced hopes that his country would win the bid with its latest MiG-35 plane.
Wednesday's deal to make Russian fighter jet engines in India - which would power India's existing fleet of Russian-made MiG-29 fighters - could give Russia an advantage in the contest to supply the newer planes.
The MiG-35 is powered by an upgraded version of the same engine, possibly reducing the costs of the new plane for India.
Another deal signed Wednesday envisaged the joint development and production of a new mid-size transport plane.
"Our cooperation today isn't simply a buyer-seller relationship. We have joint research and development and production bodies," Indian defense minister Antony said.
Antony said they discussed Russia's offer of fighter jets made by another Russian plane maker, Sukhoi, and more tanks and military helicopters.
Russia's defense minister said India has agreed to join Russia's program of developing a next-generation fighter, which is being developed by Sukhoi and is set to make its maiden flight in 2009.
The prospective fighter is designed to compete with the latest US F-22 and F-35 fighter jets and would cost billions of dollars to build.
Along with arms contracts, Russia and India also have held a series of joint military maneuvers, including a joint anti-terror exercise of paratroopers and special forces held in India last year.
Ivanov said Russia would host a similar exercise this year and the two nations were also planning to hold joint air force maneuvers later this year.
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