Russia's PROGRESS spacecraft is used as supply ship to the International Space Station

Defence has already been a cornerstone of India-Russia relationship but space may be the new frontier where the two nations can explore new avenues

New Delhi: Defence is the cornerstone of Indo-Russian friendship and New Delhi's purchase of five S-400 air-defence systems will be announced, but that apart, the big moment of the Vladimir Putin visit could be about space.

Russia is likely to put two interesting proposals on the table during the meeting between Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. First, keeping in mind the Indian Space Research Organisation's plan to have a manned mission, Russia is keen to offer training facilities for Indian astronauts at Russian centres. The Yuri Gagarin Centre is easily one of the world's foremost training centres today.

The other proposal is even more interesting. It involves flying an Indian astronaut (the Russians call them cosmonauts) in a Russian rocket to the International Space Station (the ISS).

There is already a history of New Delhi's links with Moscow. Rakesh Sharma, a serving air force officer went to space on a Soviet rocket. He and Raveesh Malhotra were selected for space flights in the Eighties. The next Indian astronaut is likely to be an IAF officer as well.

Two others of Indian origin have been in space. Kalpana Chawla died in an accident in space, when Columbia, the space shuttle, exploded. The other is Sunita Williams. Both became US citizens before their flights.

Defence will remain particularly important. Despite worries about American pressure, the S-400 deal will go ahead. After tough negotiations, the Indian sized has shaved $1.2 billion dollars off the final price. The decision for buying tour frigates-- two to be made in Russia and two in Goa are expected soon. Russia will also offer Kalashnikov rifles to be made in India. Overall, 20 agreements are likely to be signed. It is clearly a big moment.