Russia has been perhaps India’s most dependable strategic partner in the last half century, the recent bonhomie with the United States of America notwithstanding.
In the midst of the current standoff with China, the Defence Minister’s Rajnath Singh’s three-day visit to Russia has raised speculation on the reasons for this trip besides the official one of attending the 75th anniversary celebration of the Russian victory in the Second World War. Russia has been perhaps India’s most dependable strategic partner in the last half century, the recent bonhomie with the United States of America notwithstanding. It is a legacy carried forward from the halcyon days of the relationship with the erstwhile Soviet Union.
On Tuesday, defence Minister Rajnath Singh in his meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov in Moscow had reviewed the ongoing defence contracts. He was assured that the contracts will be delivered on time and in some cases a shorter time.
Expert View on the Defence Deals with Russia
“Despite the US supplying India with almost USD 20 Billion worth of big-ticket military hardware, it is Russia which has remained a firm partner despite minor blips now and then like Russia exporting helicopters to Pakistan. In the recent past, it has provided India with platforms like the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya , the nuclear submarine INS Chakra ( the only instance of a country leasing a nuclear-powered platform to another); the SU-30 MKI aircraft, the T90 tank etc in addition to the plethora of legacy equipment already in service with the Indian Armed Forces – the Sindhughosh class submarines, the Kashin class destroyers, the Talwar class frigates, the family of MiG aircraft, the T72 tank and the BMPs and the list goes on. The success of the Brahmos missile, the product of an Indo-Russian joint venture further underlines the depth of this relationship”, opines Commodore Anil Jai Singh, ( Retd) Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation.
“India is also purchasing the S-400 Air Defence System which is reportedly India’s most expensive purchase ever – in fact there is speculation that the Defence Minister is likely to request that the delivery of this system be expedited (China has already been supplied with it). And is heavily dependent on the sustained product support for its large Russian inventory which becomes even more critical at a time of heightened tension and a higher state of operational preparedness. Therefore, if indeed this is true, it would not be surprising in the least. There are some very obvious capability deficits in the Indian military arsenal which have been flagged by the services on various occasions,” he observes.
Regrettably, these have usually fallen on deaf ears to the extent that the revenue budget this year actually saw a decrease in real terms despite an increase in the operational tempo across all there services. Hence product support on favourable terms may also be a part of the agenda. Russia could also use this visit to reiterate its interest in the Project 75(I) submarine programme and its offer of three refurbished Kilo-class submarines at an affordable price at a time when the defence budget is clearly insufficient, the economy is under strain and there is an increase in operational commitments.
According to Commodore Singh, “It may be too much to expect that the outcome of this visit will substantially alter the status quo in terms of our military readiness but it will address some critical issues in the near to medium term. It Complex systems like the S400 are unlikely to arrive immediately or be deployable at a moment’s notice. They need time to manufacture, have to undergo extensive testing and trials both in Russia and in India besides the manning and training of personnel in exploiting such hi-tech systems to their maximum potential”
In his view, “From a geopolitical perspective, this visit may provide an opportunity for the Defence Minister to meet with the head of the Chinese delegation (expectedly an appropriately senior functionary) also attending the parade in a neutral venue. In the RIC meeting on Tuesday attended by the Foreign Ministers of the three countries, the Russian Foreign Minister very categorically distanced himself from involving Russia in this strictly bilateral issue. “
“However, an openly antagonistic Sino-Indian relationship could impact Russia’s relationship with both countries. This would not be in its best interest so it may not be entirely surprising if Russia puts in a gentle word towards diffusing the situation,” he concludes