THE last important event on President Vladimir Putin's schedule in New Delhi was the presentation of the Russian State Award, the Friendship Order, to three eminent Indians - former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, retired Supreme Court Judge V.R. Krishna Iye r, and film-maker Mrinal Sen. Justice Krishna Iyer is the chairman of the Indian Society for Cultural Cooperation and Friendship with Russia, Gujral has been a long standing friend of Russia since the days of the Soviet Union, having served as Ambassado r in Moscow for more than 10 years.
Presenting the awards at the Russian embassy, Putin emphasised that they were given to people who had made a "tremendous personal contribution" to the development of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. He said: "It is thanks to the acti vities of such selfless enthusiasts that we have been able to raise our relations to this high level... It is precisely because of these efforts that it has become possible to sign the Russian-Indian Declaration of Strategic Partnership, which opens up n ew vistas for the development of relations between the two countries".
Putin went on to say that his address to the Indian Parliament and his interaction with the parliamentarians provided confirmation of the "really high level" of his visit. Despite the Parliament Hall being packed with politicians of different persuasions , he did not see a single "sidelong glance, nor have I heard a single critical remark made by anyone attending the meeting". (Left parties' MPs had boycotted United States President Bill Clinton's address to Parliament in March.)
Putin assured the recipients of the award and also the gatherings that a similar consolidation of public opinion on the necessity to expand and strengthen relations existed in Russia. "And this is particularly important because both you and our people ne ed to have relations at such a level, they need them because the geo-strategic interests of both Russia and India coincide in practically all aspects of the life of our countries." Putin made a strong plea that all that steps needed to promote bilateral relations "should be thoroughly cultivated and developed."
After presenting the awards, Putin spoke to the recipients and mingled freely with the audience.