|By Vinay Shukla||April 2017|
Moscow. Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s Moscow visit on April 25-26 and his talks here with his Russian counterpart, Army General Sergei Shoigu, and other officials has acquired a special significance ahead of annual India-Russia Summit early next month in the former Russian Imperial Capital St. Petersburg.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to pay a three-day visit to St. Petersburg on June 1-3 as the Chief Guest of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, also known as Eurasian Davos, and is to hold bilateral annual summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Formally, Mr Jaitley was here to address the annual VI Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) on Global Security: Challenges of the 21st Century, but as this is the 70th anniversary year of the bilateral diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Moscow, he spoke at the event and interacted with his hosts in his capacity as India’s Defence Minister. In the past, India nominated a Minister of State.
Mr Jaitley took the opportunity to mention that India would like to continue strengthening the defence relationship with its long-time friend, and maybe help in adding new dimensions in the rapidly changing world.
Observers here did not fail to notice two points about the visit: Mr Jaitley flew into Moscow from Washington, with which Moscow now has strained relations; and secondly, Beijing had just snubbed Moscow, by rejecting its proposal of a trilateral meeting of Russia-India-China defence ministers’ on the eve of the Conference.
Mr. Jaitley’s Moscow visit has signalled New Delhi’s intention to rejuvenate defence relationship with a resurgent Russia, which to a great extent has reclaimed its clout in resolving the acute global and regional issues in spite of crippling US and Western sanctions over Ukraine.
Speaking at the Conference, Mr Jaitley declared that Moscow was one of the key centres for decision-making on global security issues in keeping with Russia’s significance and influence in world affairs and as its long-standing friend and strategic partner, India supports an expanded role by Russia in global affairs, “especially in our shared neighbourhood.”
Amid speculations about New Delhi leaning towards Washington, Mr Jaitley declared: Russia is our foremost defence partner. India and Russia share a special and privileged strategic partnership, which has stood the test of time. This is a relationship which goes far beyond just the relations between the Governments. Russia has been a true and trusted friend of India, which is regarded so by the people of India and there has been a much greater cooperation at the level of Defence.
“It is a cooperation which extends to Joint Military exercises, training cooperation and also with regard to supply of equipment which India purchases from Russia. We have future plans to set up manufacturing units in India and these are subjects of discussion which came up in my bilateral meeting with the Defence Minister and I am sure with the level of engagement we have, this relationship will continue to grow,” Mr Jaitley said.
He disclosed that over the past few months, India and Russia have taken steps to further strengthen the engagement between their armed forces and will shortly negotiate a new training agreement.
Later this year, Indian and Russian armed forces will hold the INDRA tri-services joint military exercises in Russia. This would be a historic occasion as it will be the first time that India and Russia are taking part in joint exercises in such a format with each other or with any other country. Experts here believe that this will be a good opportunity to hone the combat skills under India’s recently unveiled Joint Armed Forces Doctrine.
This also could be seen as further movement in the bilateral partnership, which is looking beyond the military-technical cooperation, that is beyond the arms purchases and joint weapons development to strategic interaction of the their armed forces.
Notably, India remains Russia’s biggest arms purchaser with a share of 39 percent and Moscow has supplied US$ 35 to 40 billion worth weapons to New Delhi so far,
They expect that Defence Minister Jaitley’s Moscow talks have cleared the path for at least five big-ticket arms deals to be cleared before or during PM Narendra Modi’s summit talks with President Vladimir Putin.
They include US$ 8 billion Super Sukhoi deal for the upgradation of the entire fleet of Indian Air Force’s workhorse Su-30MKI multi-role fighters; 464 CKD kits for the assembly of modernised version of T-90MS main battle tanks at Heavy Vehicles Factory in Tamil Nadu; four improved Talwar class stealth frigates of project 11356, two of which will be fully built at an Indian shipyard under Make in India programme; fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and the Joint Venture for the production of 200 Kamov Ka-226T light utility helicopters for the Indian Armed Forces to replace the old fleets of Chetak and Cheetah choppers.
The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture, remains the gold standard of defence collaboration between India and a foreign nation, the official sources here say that more lethal and advanced versions of the cruise missiles should be developed in the coming years.
According to official sources here, the dynamics of Indo-Russian defence collaboration have evolved from a simple buyer-seller relationship towards collaborative joint action. Moscow already has an institutionalised military- technical cooperation (MTC) framework with New Delhi. Both sides are working towards defence technology transfer, trade, research, co-development and co-production for defence articles and services, including the most advanced and sophisticated technology.
Given the Indian Government’s determination to use India’s private sector as a vehicle for indigenizing defence production, joint ventures between Indian private defence majors and Russian Original Equipment Manufacturers shall be viewed favourably under the current policy dispensation.
So we can say with confidence that Defence Minister Jaitley’s Moscow visit has given a new fillip to the bilateral ties and prepared a solid ground for the success of annual Indo-Russian summit.