Can India, Russia be strategic partners

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 16 2010, 21:20pm hrs
In the area of geo-politics, India stands to benefit from its relationship with Russia. The friendship between the two countries is old and time-tested. The former Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi could liberate Bangladesh in 1971 only with the diplomatic support of the then Soviet Union.

In matters of bilateral cooperation in the defence, Russia is the only country with which India has an institutionalized mechanism at the level of defence ministers on both sides. The India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) was formed in the year 2000 with a view to further bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries. The Commission is supported by two working groups -- on military technical cooperation and shipbuilding, aviation and land systems. It has also seven sub-groups.

The scope for military technical cooperation between both the countries is defined through an umbrella inter-governmental agreement --- agreement on long-term programme for military and technical cooperation for the period 2011-20 signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh to Russia in December, 2009.

Over the years of long time-tested friendship, India and Russia could jointly develop many systems, equipment and Russia produced for India many very important weapons and other sophisticated items for the Indian Armed Forces. The most significant one was the introduction of the Brahmos missile system in the Indian Armed Forces.

The 10th meeting of the IRIGC-MTC which took place in New Delhi on October 7, 2010 was significant as it took place prior to the scheduled visit of the US President Barrack Obama in early November, this year.

The Joint Commission reviewed the status of several ongoing and proposed projects, including the licenced production of T-90 tanks and establishment of the repair and overhaul facilities for various Russian origin defence equipment in India. The Indian Defence Minister, AK Anthony and the Russian Defence Minister, AE Serdyukov held separate discussions on various issues of regional and global security. Both the ministers agreed on the need to enhance interactions between the Armed Forces of both countries.

The Joint Commission took note of the progress on several major projects since its last meeting in Moscow in October 2009. Both sides expressed satisfaction at the conclusion of the shareholders agreement for formation of a joint venture company for the development of multirole transport aircraft (MTA). Further, both sides agreed to expedite modalities for the proposed project for the joint design, development and production of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

India and Russia will jointly produce FGFA at an estimated investment of about $ 25 billion. The production partners would be Sukhoi from the Russian side and HAL from the Indian side. Within a span of next 10 years, India will get about 250 to 300 FGFA from the joint production.

Finer details of this project will be worked out during the visit of the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev to India scheduled in December, 2010.

India will also get 45 MTA within a period of 10 years.

The Russian Defence Minister said : We are very much interested in the drawing and creation of the FGFA vis--vis our Indian friends and colleagues. And what we have already done, we have done the design of the plane, we have developed the timeframes, the prices and the draft of the contract has already been submitted to the Indian side, which is under their consideration.

At the 10th meeting of the IRIGC-MTC joint protocols were signed by the India Defence Minister AK Anthony and the Russian Defence Minister, AE Serdyukov.

India and Russia agreed to cooperate in the areas of R&D and technology transfer with the active involvement of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from the Indian side.

Regarding delays in implementation of several projects jointly undertaken by the two countries, Serdyukov clarified ; We have a great volume of military and technical projects and it is quite natural to have some delays. But I will underscore that there are no critical delays in our projects. I have also raised a number of issues today with my Indian colleague and he promised to scrutinize and I will do the same on my side in order to tackle the problems mentioned by India. As regards the combat helicopter, as soon we will get the contract, we will provide the helicopters, this is quite simple.

From October 15 to 25, this year, India and Russia will engage in joint military exercises in India. About 280 troops from the Southern Force Mountain Brigade of the Southern Russian Command will join in the joint exercise. In late November, 2010 the Chief of the Russian Defence Forces is likely to visit India to work out details of the future programmes. Russian Navy Chief is also scheduled to visit India in January 2011. . Another joint military exercise is scheduled in 2011.

The presence of the erstwhile Soviet Union in the yesteryears ensured a balance of power at the global level. Todays Russia, though may not look that mighty, is strategically well placed to play a significant role. In matters of defence and external relations we need a trusted ally and Russia is our best bet.