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India wary of new Russia-Pakistan ties

Publication Date : 10-10-2012


India never gets tired of saying it has a time-tested relationship with Russia, its former Cold War ally and leading defence supplier. But New Delhi is now watching Moscow's evolving ties with Islamabad with some anxiety.

Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was in Russia last week, and won Moscow's backing on Islamabad's position on American drone attacks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also travelled to Pakistan to make up for the postponement of President Vladimir Putin's Islamabad visit.

India sees Afghanistan as being at the heart of the Russia-Pakistan engagement, now that Moscow is worried about what will happen after the impending withdrawal of Western troops, but foreign policy analysts said New Delhi had nothing to fear.

"India in the short term has nothing to fear from the engagement between Russia and Pakistan, but should be prepared for the changing equation," said Dr C. Raja Mohan, a strategic affairs analyst with the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think-tank. "But ties between India and Russia need to be modernised and recalibrated."

Russia remains India's biggest defence supplier despite strong competition from Israel and the United States; it supplies some 60 per cent of India's military equipment. But irritants have been creeping into a relationship that thrived during the Cold War.

In the area of nuclear cooperation, Russia is concerned over a new Indian law that puts strict conditions on nuclear equipment suppliers in case of accidents. Anti-nuclear protests at the Kudankulam nuclear plant, an Indo- Russian collaboration, also raised eyebrows in the Kremlin.

On the Indian side, a major irritant is the delivery of a US$2.3 billion aircraft carrier, originally built for the Russian Navy, called the Admiral Gorshkov, which is being reconditioned and renovated for India.

Seen as a cornerstone of defence ties, the warship, called INS Vikramaditya by the Indian side, was originally supposed to be delivered to the Indian Navy in 2008, but has seen several delays and run into cost overruns.

Latest reports from Russia suggested further delays, after engine malfunctions during sea trials.

The delivery of the warship is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Defence Minister A.K. Antony meets his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov for defence talks today, a meeting that was postponed by the Russian side from last week.

India, it is understood, is also looking at the the possibility of imposing a late fee that could run into millions of dollars.

Other issues are also expected to come up. One is the problem of obtaining spare parts for existing Russian military equipment used by India's armed forces. There are also expected to be discussions between the two sides on developing a futuristic fifth-generation stealth fighter, on which India is looking to spend around $35 billion in the next 20 years.

Foreign policy experts said India's age-old ties were no doubt being tested. Said security expert Uday Bhaskar: "India does have a pedigree as far as relations with Moscow are concerned, and no doubt it is a truly strategic one. Moscow has supported India in its quest for a nuclear submarine, but it has of late seen a certain setback on the bilateral front, particularly with the aircraft carrier.

"On larger regional issues, Moscow and Delhi have different concerns. On the Russian side, there is concern about how India is engaging with the US, while India has its own anxieties about Pakistan and the fact that China is always there. All this put together will drive or influence the way in which both sides view their ties."

For now, the countries are hoping to build some momentum in ties and discuss issues of concern in a series of meetings, starting with the one between the defence ministers.

Next, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is expected for trade and investment talks, followed by the annual summit between Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early next month.

But the exclusive nature of India-Russia ties may now be a thing of the past.

Wrote Dr Raja Mohan in his weekly column: "In recent years, Delhi has often tried to hold Russia down to an exclusive relationship with itself and limit the ties between Moscow and Islamabad.

"That approach is clearly unsustainable. If the US and China have sought to develop more balanced relations with India and Pakistan, Delhi must recognise that Russia is bound to do the same."


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