Old wine, new battles

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Modi with Russian President Putin at the Goa Summit
Modi with Russian President Putin at the Goa Summit

The eighth BRICS Summit n Goa (15-16 October) have a lot of food for thought. India’s stand on terrorism brought forth mixed reactions, with some believing that India made it all about Pakistan, with efforts to isolate the neighbouring country. The most reassuring outcome, according to some experts, was that India was able to strike a perfect balance between its new-found fancy for the US and its old ally Russia, what with signing deals to the tune of Rs 43,000 crore in defence and other trade sectors.

The summit theme — Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions — is self-explanatory. Apart from global terrorism, the agenda included financial development, infrastructure and environmental issues.

Walking the tightrope

India signed several key defence agreements with the US in the recent past including the key ‘Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement’, which provides access to supplies, spare parts and services from each other’s land facilities, air bases and ports. Major US firms won big ticket Indian defence projects, giving rise to the perception that India is getting closer to the US, pushing Russia aside. A testimony to the growing strategic and trade ties between the two countries is the US terming India as its ‘strategic defence partner’.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that Russia remains India’s “most important” defence partner when he said, “An old friend (Russia) is better than two new friends” at the summit. This indicates that even though the US has emerged as a key defence supplier in terms of value, Russia continues to be India’s single-most important supplier of defence hardware if you count the number of units.

Lt Gen BS Pawar, former head of the Army Aviation Corps and Commandant School of Artillery, comments, “India has never dumped Russia. About 60 percent of defence equipment in India is of Russian origin, e.g., Sukhoi and MiG helicopters. Russia extended support in setting up nuclear power plants in India. Yes, there is no denying that US has of late become India’s defence partner; several big ticket purchases such as the Apache and Chinook choppers are of US origin. However, when it comes to technology transfer, the US is yet to do that. Similarly, on the South China.”

Sea front, India wanted the US to tackle Pakistan and China but time and again the US has disappointed us. So, whether the US can be India’s reliable strategic partner in the long run is yet to be seen. At the same time, Russia will remain our partner more than the US. In a way, India has been able to strike a balance in coming back with Russia vis-à-vis its changing dynamics with the US,” he averred.

Echoing similar sentiments, Commodore (retd) C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies,  New Delhi, says, “India was able to hit the reset button with Russia at the BRICS event. It may be more accurate to review India’s relations with Moscow than just Russia, since the former USSR was a very important entity for India during the Cold War decades — and not just due to the veto in the UNSC over Kashmir. There was a time when many of India’s major military platforms were of former Soviet origin — be it tanks, fighter aircraft, ships and submarines, et al. This inventory dependence continues. Moscow has also enabled India in strategic areas — viz. nuclear propulsion. And after he visible improvement in India-US ties, there was a need to review and reset the relationship with Moscow.”

“In fact, Russia will remain a very important interlocutor given its role in India’s strategic and security framework. The principle challenge for Delhi in the near future will be managing bilateral relations with an assertive Beijing. The texture of the Delhi-Moscow relationship will define the contour and confidence with which India can engage with China. PM Modi spoke about Moscow being an ‘old friend’ at the Goa summit. Delhi’s perspicacity will be assessed by the degree to which it can ensure that India’s relationship with both the USA and Russia, does not become an ‘either — or’ choice,” he articulates.

‘On the South China Sea front, India wanted the US to tackle Pakistan and China, but time and again the US has disappointed’

Trade deals

On the trade front, both the countries strengthened their existing ties with signing of several key defence deals, on the sidelines of the summit, to the tune of Rs 43,000 crore. Modi said both countries continue to expand, diversify and deepen economic engagement. “Businesses and industry between our two c countries are connected more deeply today. Trade and investment ties are on the upswing. And, with President Putin’s backing, we hope to fast-track India’s association with Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement”, PM Modi said. The world witnessed the signing of a RS 39,000 crore defence deal to procure Moscow’s most advanced anti-aircraft defence system — S400 Triumph, which will provide India a ballistic missile shield. In another key deal that is being seen as a huge boost for the Modi government’s Make in India initiative, India will initially import and then manufacture Russian Ka-226 T light utility helicopters that will replace our country’s ageing Cheetah and Chetak choppers.

While 40 of these choppers will be brought to India off the shelf, another 20 will be brought down as knocked-down versions. Rest of the helicopters will be made in India.

The joint venture will become a pilot project for the Russian- Indian part of the Make in India programme. The joint venture for local production of Ka-226T is a profoundly new and substantial step in the development of cooperation between India and Russia. The fleet of Russian-made helicopters in India is over 400 units. The combined share of the Russian participants in the joint venture will amount to 49.5 per cent, the share of the Indian side 50.5 percent. India and Russia will also collaborate to jointly manufacture four state-of-the-art Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) guided-missile stealth frigates.

Thus India’s strong, long-standing defence partnership with Russia was strengthened further. As defence analyst OP Sharma puts it, “Russia has been a reliable friend and partner of India for several decades. This is a strategic partnership which has stood the test of time and will remain so”.

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Terror not a binding issue 

India’s concerns on terror did not resonate with all BRICS members

The summit’s Goa Declaration covered a number of issues concerning all the countries. The Prime Minister made forceful pleas to fight terrorism at this platform and reiterated that Pakistan is using terror as a tool against India, but this did not resonate with all the BRICS countries and did not find a voice in the Goa Declaration. Instead, it reads: “We strongly condemn the recent several attacks, against some BRICS countries, including that in India. We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there can be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism, whether based upon ideological, religious, political, racial, ethnic or any other reasons. We agree to strengthen cooperation in combating international terrorism both at the bilateral level and at international fora.”

It continues: “To address the threat of chemical and biological terrorism, we support and emphasise the need for launching multilateral negotiations on an international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism, including at the conference on disarmament. In this context, we welcome India’s offer to host a conference in 2018 aimed at strengthening international resolve in facing the challenge of the WMD-terrorism nexus.”

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