In­dia-Rus­sia – Half-hearted Druzhba?


The joint In­dia-Rus­sia state­ment ti­tled “Druzhba-Dosti: A Vi­sion for Strength­en­ing the Part­ner­ship Over the Next Decade” prom­ises a lot, re­flect­ing the tra­di­tional strong strate­gic ties be­tween the two Eurasian and Asian gi­ants. How­ever, it has ruf­fled a few feath­ers in many cap­i­tals of the world and the most sig­nif­i­cant re­ac­tion has been of the US over the high pro­file visit of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The US State Depart­ment as­serted that it was not the ‘right time for business as usual’ with Rus­sia. Com­ment­ing on Putin’s less than 24-hour visit to In­dia from De­cem­ber 10 to 11, an an­nual sum­mit rit­ual which Putin per­forms in a hur­ried man­ner, the US spokesper­son Marie Harf said, “Our view re­mains that it’s not time for business as usual with Rus­sia, given its ac­tion in Ukraine.”

Since Rus­sia is un­der heavy sanc­tions by the US and the Euro­pean Union for its support of pro-Moscow rebels in East­ern Ukraine as well as Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of the Ukrainian penin­sula of Crimea, they ex­pect In­dia to join the western band­wagon. The man­darins in South Block were well aware of the im­pend­ing re­ac­tion in western cap­i­tals, es­pe­cially in view of In­dia’s re­cent ef­forts to im­prove its re­la­tions with the US and its al­lies. Since Rus­sia is on a sticky wicket, suf­fer­ing from a bat­tered econ­omy due to western sanc­tions, Putin was more than will­ing to go ex­tra mile to re­as­sure In­dia over its strate­gic part­ner­ship.

Um­bil­i­cal cord

On the other hand, the um­bil­i­cal cord of In­dia’s armed forces is tied with Rus­sian de­fence in­dus­try, which can­not be ig­nored. Modi, hence as­sured Putin, “Even as In­dia’s op­tions have in­creased to­day, Rus­sia will re­main our most im­por­tant de­fence part­ner. We have con­ducted joint ex­er­cises across all three wings of the armed forces in the last six months. We also dis­cussed how to align our de­fence re­la­tions to In­dia’s own pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing Make in In­dia.” Modi

thus un­der­lined the pri­macy of Moscow in In­dia’s strate­gic cal­cu­la­tions. Modi said th­ese words even when Rus­sia has ig­nored protests from In­dia over Rus­sia’s lat­est de­fence co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment with Pak­istan which en­vis­ages trans­fer of Mi-35 at­tack he­li­copters, os­ten­si­bly to help Pak­istan army fight ter­ror­ists and in­sur­gents on its western bor­der.

Of course, In­dia could not have protested beyond a limit as In­dian armed forces are crit­i­cally de­pen­dent on the Rus­sian de­fence in­dus­try for main­tain­ing its com­bat-edge over the neigh­bours. Pres­i­dent Putin proudly re­minded the In­dian me­dia that Rus­sia had ex­tended sig­nif­i­cant as­sis­tance in de­vel­op­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing the Brah­Mos su­per­sonic cruise mis­sile, which in the age of Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime, none of In­dian western strate­gic part­ners would have shared the know-how. Also, In­dia can­not be blind to the sen­si­tive tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance in the field of nu­clear sub­ma­rine Ari­hant and two more of the same class. Brah­Mos has pro­vided the In­dian armed forces a sig­nif­i­cant of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity, which should not be sidestepped. Sim­i­larly the Sukhoi-30MKI fight­ers have bridged the crit­i­cal com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity gap of the In­dian armed forces. Many other class de­fence sys­tems from Rus­sia have formed the back­bone of In­dian mil­i­tary, but lack of spare support has be­dev­iled the armed forces.

Hence, Prime Min­is­ter Modi cor­rectly pro­posed to his Rus­sian friend, “that Rus­sia should lo­cate man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties in In­dia for spares and com­po­nents for Rus­sian de­fence equip­ment in In­dia.” Putin re­sponded very pos­i­tively to his re­quest.

There was no di­rect men­tion of the progress on the fifth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft (FGFA) project but th­ese is­sues were dis­cussed dur­ing the talks over which In­dia has ex­pressed re­sent­ment. The Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Alexan­der Kadakin had re­vealed a few days ear­lier that the Rus­sian side is ready for 50:50 work share and the fighter project would not be de­layed beyond 2018, dis­count­ing me­dia re­ports that the IAF would not be re­ceiv­ing the first squadron of FGFA be­fore 2022-23.

Even while this highly am­bi­tious project is un­der dis­cus­sion, the Rus­sian Pres­i­dent of­fered to man­u­fac­ture the Rus­sia’s most ad­vanced mil­i­tary he­li­copter gun­ship in In­dia un­der Modi’s Make in In­dia pol­icy.

The two sides is­sued a joint state­ment as­sert­ing the po­lit­i­cal will to fur­ther strengthen the spe­cial priv­i­leged part­ner­ship. The state­ment said, “The spe­cial and priv­i­leged strate­gic part­ner­ship be­tween In­dia and Rus­sia has been built on the strong foun­da­tion of mu­tual trust, bi­lat­eral un­der­stand­ing and unique peo­ple-to-peo­ple affini­ties, the lead­ers em­pha­sised that the time has come for a sig­nif­i­cant broad-bas­ing of bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion to carry the friend­ship be­tween the coun­tries to a qual­i­ta­tively new level.”

Diplo­matic ob­servers opined that th­ese are mere rhetor­i­cal state­ments, which do not match with the Rus­sian deeds, which had sup­plied not only ad­vanced de­fence tech­nol­ogy and de­fence sys­tems to China, In­dia’s ri­val, but even has be­gun talk­ing to Pak­istan which In­dia con­sid­ers as an unfriendly act. But th­ese well mean­ing words in the joint state­ment cre­ate con­fu­sion in the US and western cap­i­tals which wants to draw In­dia away from Chi­nese and Rus­sian in­flu­ence.

Rus­sia emerg­ing as prin­ci­pal en­ergy part­ner

How­ever, In­dia has to ig­nore the western sen­si­tiv­i­ties in view of In­dia’s huge en­ergy de­mand and Rus­sia ap­pears to be emerg­ing as the prin­ci­pal en­ergy part­ner. The vi­sion doc­u­ment ti­tled “Strate­gic Vi­sion for Strength­en­ing Co­op­er­a­tion in Peace­ful Uses of Atomic En­ergy Be­tween the Repub­lic of In­dia and the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion” is a tes­ti­mony to this. Rus­sia has abun­dant en­ergy and In­dia’s ap­petite for en­ergy is ever grow­ing in view of its fast ris­ing econ­omy. Hence, it was ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant that the Rus­sian side of­fered to build more than 20 nu­clear power plants in In­dia. This of­fer has come at a time when In­dia’s prin­ci­pal nu­clear en­ergy part­ners—US, Ja­pan and France— are ask­ing for a re­laxed nu­clear li­a­bil­ity law. After sev­eral years of de­lay, the Rus­sian side has agreed to start con­struc­tion work of the units 3 and 4 of the Ku­danku­lam nu­clear power plant. Rus­sia was ini­tially of­fered a nu­clear park in Haripur in West Ben­gal but due to non-co­op­er­a­tive at­ti­tude of the West Ben­gal Gov­ern­ment, the Rus­sians could not com­mence work. The new site for nu­clear power plant will be al­lot­ted soon as per a road map drafted in March 2010. The nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries has emerged as one of the largest glob­ally and the world is tak­ing note of it. The US and the western world feels cheated as they helped In­dia join the in­ter­na­tional nu­clear main­stream, but all the nu­clear com­merce is go­ing to the Rus­sians, ig­nor­ing the nu­clear li­a­bil­ity con­cerns. The Rus­sians are also se­ri­ously sup­port­ing the case for In­dia’s mem­ber­ship of the four re­stric­tive ex­port con­trol regimes, i.e. the Nu­clear Sup­plier Group, The Wasse­nar Ar­range­ment, the Aus­tralia Group and the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime, a move staunchly op­posed by China.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi with the Pres­i­dent of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, Vladimir Putin, in New Delhi on De­cem­ber 11, 2014

Su-30MKI have bridged the crit­i­cal com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity of the In­dian armed forces; A Rus­sian T-50, on which the FGFA is based

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