India-Russia relationship hits a rough patch - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 14 December 2007

India-Russia relationship hits a rough patch

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 14th December 2007

Cracks in the India-Russia relationship are becoming increasingly difficult to paper over. In October, India faced a snub when foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, on a visit to Russia, could not secure a meeting with his Russian counterpart. On 3rd December, India’s navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, publicly questioned Russia’s new priorities, suggesting frankly that new oil wealth could be generating a world-view in Moscow that was different from when New Delhi largely funded Russia’s defence R&D.

It remains unclear whether the admiral had the government’s okay to pronounce on foreign policy, but he only stated a fact. After the Soviet meltdown, Russia’s military spending plummeted to one-thirtieth of what it was in 1989, when 2.03% of the Soviet Union’s GDP was being spent on R&D. Russian analysts estimate that by 2000, India may have been funding 50% of all Russia’s military R&D. This was done by ordering a range of weaponry --- T-90 tanks, Talwar class warships, Sukhoi-30 fighters, MiG-21 upgrades, and a range of missiles --- and letting Russia develop those products using Indian money.

Things, however, have changed dramatically. From 2007-2012, a resurrected Russian State Armaments Programme will spend US $50 million on military R&D. As Russia’s military places long-postponed orders for weaponry, that country’s scaled-down defence facilities are unable to fulfil foreign contracts. Senior Indian diplomats point out that Russia’s military modernisation programme meant that the Gorshkov over-runs were inevitable.

The problem is not just India’s. China, too, must deal with a commercially resurgent Russia. Beijing had signed, in 2005, a $1 billion order for 34 giant IL-78 transport planes and 4 IL-78 refuelling aircraft. Now Russia has realised that it cannot meet its own as well as Beijing’s requirements. That contract is being renegotiated at a higher price. 

India, says a senior official with extensive experience in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), has no choice but to deal with the new Russia. Declaring that the navy chief should not have criticised Russia, the official observes that, “The services may feel frustrated by occasional irritants in an extensive defence relationship. But when the navy needs help in designing a nuclear submarine, or wants to lease one to train crewmen, which country other than Russia is willing to help?”

The changing military relationship also reflects larger geo-strategic changes. A top diplomatic source points out, “The Soviet-India relationship can never be recreated, since that rested on a shared threat from China. Today, Russia has a benign relationship with China; in fact China buys more Russian arms than any other country in the world.”

And even that is changing. In 2006 and 2007 a host of small countries that buy big have supplanted China. Algeria was Moscow’s biggest customer last year, signing a $7.5 billion order for a basket of weaponry. Venezuela spent $3 billion on Russian arms; Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam each bought up a billion dollars worth of Russian arms.

Despite that, there are important Indian interests, says the senior diplomat, which can never be achieved without Russian cooperation. He points out that, “India wants to expand its footprint in the energy-rich Central Asian region. It cannot do so without Russian blessings. If India is a player in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, it is thanks to Russia’s help. India’s long-term energy interests are closely linked with Russia.”

New Delhi’s struggle to generate warmth in an old marriage is not made easier by a new suitor, Washington. Despite those blandishments, key decision-makers in South Block still believe that the India-Russia relationship must be defined by political common ground --- e.g. Russian backing for India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and its support in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group --- rather than on disagreements in an arms supply relationship that must eventually be anchored on commercial logic, not political patronage.


  1. Ajai:

    India has a lot to gain from Russia by maintaining and strengthening this relationship. But what does Russia gain from this? Is there a quid pro quo?
    Eventually it will be Russian commercial interests being fulfilled by India's need for a strategic anchor. The strength of the anchor will be measured during turbulent times.

  2. Mr. Shukla, one more area of major concern is Russia's approval to supply Pakistan with RD-93 engines for the Sino-Pak JF-17 fighter planes. This year, two JF-17 planes were transported to PAF to take part in a National military parade, and which were installed with Russian RD-93 engines.

    Zee news reported this

    The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed, told the British journal at the just-concluded Dubai Air Show that the PAF expects to receive the first eight JF-17s powered by RD-93 engines under a "small batch order" over the next few months.

    In a thinly veiled reference to nuclear rival India lobbying Russia to pressure China into not clearing the engine for re-export to Pakistan, Ahmed dismissed concerns over the RD-93 as "an issue created from here and there".

    Senior military officers in New Delhi said this setback was yet another instance of India's impotence in dealing firmly with Russia, its largest defence equipment supplier.

    I think it will be a "painful" effort to accept that Russia is motivated strictly by commercial interests, and that the Soviet-Indian type of relations no longer present. Globalization---unlike cold-war polarization---also has the effect of nuclearizing all entities; families, companies (with a 'global footprint') and even nations.

    Russia and Russian interests are also nuclearized :- "From a nation that strictly practiced and promoted Communism to a closely-knit group of satellite nations, today, it is an identity-less monolith whose commercial interests are driven by quick pragmatic turns of events. Pakistan wants Russian engine ? Money for Russia ? So be it. India objects Gorshkov ? Hire professional negotiators and convince. NASA wants Soyuz flight services ? Income for Russia ? Okay. US puts missile defences in East Europe ? Sell weapons to Iran. Meeting with president Bush on his ranch next month ? Da ! And invite him to Putin's dacha next.

    Globalization began very early on, when George Bush's grandfather was convicted and found guilty of supplying some hardware to Nazis. IBM has not denied charges for providing punched-card computers to track down and exterminate Jews more efficiently. The same phenomenon is being repeated with Russia today. Today its RD-93 engines for Pakistan, tomorrow it may well be MiGs.

    So instead of lamenting, "Oh what's happened to our good old Russia of yore", we must accept the reality and commit ourselves to self-reliance and self-dependence.

    We like caterpillars more than the insects they germinate into. The Soviet Union in the polarized globe was good. This new nation in the globalized world is not.

    Thank you.

    References :-

    Print editorial.

  3. The Indo-Russian relationship is dead in the water. Any attempts to rekindle warmth in this old marriage are futile.

    It has been nothing but inertia that has been keeping the diplomatic rhetoric at the "we are friends and brothers" level. There is no substance to it, and this has become patent especially in the 2000's.

    What we are seeing here is Russia's re-emergence as a rival political power centre to the US. The only difference is, Putin's blustering rhetoric isn't empty. He has burgeoning oil revenues to back it up and he's got Europe by the proverbial balls when it comes to energy dependedncy. He can turn the taps on or off.

    Russia's armed services have been aching for an influx of cash and over the next 8 years or so, they're going to be getting about 180 billion USD. Russia has the will and the potential to challenge American unipolarity.

    This is where the Chinese come in. A watertight Sino-Russian strategic alliance is in the offing.

    I find it very easy to make a prediction. Isn't it obvious? Blocks are forming all over again. It is Russia & China at one pole and an overstretched Uncle Sam at the other, battling to preserve his hegemony.

    Clearly, India is going to have to pick a side. The national interests of India and the US are converging like no other. The US can't rely on a comfortable unipolarity. They need us and we need them. Reciprocity. A perfect foundation for any sustainable reationship. We are too weak to recast a new world order on our own. A US-India-Israel axis (perhaps EU?) will balance out anything the Russians and the Chinese can muster.

  4. Mr Shukla, I may add that the idea of suspecting Mr. Antony's motives is also that of Mr. Aroor, from his article (and TV news report on HT), titled, "What's the deal Mr. Antony ?"


    Reference :


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