Friends for ever


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Russia might have lacked the hype that surrounded his recent visit to Washington but it was not short on substantial achievements. The two countries signed six important agreements taking bilateral relationship to a new, higher level. The most significant is a civilian nuclear energy agreement under which Russia will set up more nuclear reactors in India, transfer the entire range of nuclear energy technologies and supply nuclear fuel.

India’s nuclear deal with Russia goes well beyond that clinched with the US. Unlike the deal with the US, which warns India of termination of all nuclear co-operation in the event of Delhi conducting a nuclear test, the India-Russia nuclear agreement assures India of uninterrupted fuel supply. The Russians have also promised India enrichment and reprocessing rights. Another point in favour of the nuclear deal with the Russians is that there is no request for liability or insurance cover.

The stalemate over the pricing of ‘Admiral Gorshkov’, which has queered relations somewhat in recent years, is reported to have been resolved ‘satisfactorily to both sides’. Russia repeatedly hiked the cost of upgrading the aircraft carrier, citing a rise in cost of materials. This has been unacceptable to India. The ensuing deadlock has delayed delivery. India will be forking out far more money to get the carrier than originally agreed. Still, the end of the stalemate is welcome. An important gap in India’s naval preparedness will be closed once a refurbished Gorshkov (renamed INS Vikramaditya) is inducted into the Navy. India and Russia have also signed a defence agreement that provides for acquisition, licensed production, upgrades and modernisation of defence equipment as well as the development of new and advanced weapon systems.

Defence co-operation has been the mainstay of the Delhi-Moscow bond for decades. Increasingly, however, India has been looking to Israel and the US to meet its defence needs. Not surprisingly this has bothered the Russians. There are serious issues that trouble Indo-Russian defence ties, such as the inordinate delay in supplying defence spare parts. The unseemly haggling over the price of Gorshkov, after the agreement was finalised, has not gone down well in India which values its long-standing friendship with the Russians. The generous terms of the nuclear deal is widely appreciated in India, but Moscow’s pressure tactics in defence deals must stop if it is keen to keep the relationship alive.

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