Urgent need to step up official contact with New Delhi

The number of official Russian visits to India is many times lower than those of America and European countries. Source: Alamy/Legion Media.

The number of official Russian visits to India is many times lower than those of America and European countries. Source: Alamy/Legion Media.

One gets the impression that the Russian-Indian relationship is 80 percent defence and nuclear power engagement, which is a joke compared to the much more diverse ties between India and the West.

Two European leaders visited India over a relatively short period of time and did everything in their power and a bit more to promote French and British business in that country. Amid the recession, Western governments are stepping up their efforts in the rapidly growing Indian market.

This activity is in stark contrast to the apathy shown by high-ranking Russian officials, including the country leaders. President Putin’s visit to Delhi last December was cut to eight working hours and effectively reduced to fruitless protocol meetings. The number of official Russian visits to India is many times lower than those of America and European countries. It seems that the relationship in the defence industry should be intense. But it was common practice for then Minister of Defence Anatoly Serdyukov to cancel bilateral exercises and minimise military contacts.

This is an odd approach to a partner that still spends billions of dollars on Russian arms every year. Moreover, it is the Russian Ministry of Defence that should be interested in sharing information with Indian pilots and sailors.  The Indian experiences with the SU-30MKI fighter, the Talwar frigate and diesel-electric submarines armed with cruise missiles would be useful for Russia as all of these possess weapons systems that have finally been acquired by the Russian military and will soon be delivered to active units in large batches.

Also, Russian officers have a lot to learn from India, which is involved in more joint military exercises than any other non-aligned nation in the world. The country completes exercises with the planet’s best armies and navies, including those of Israel and the United States.

One gets the impression that the Russian-Indian relationship is 80 percent defence and nuclear power engagement, which is a joke compared to the much more diverse ties between India and the West.

However, promoting arms supplies to the Indian market is an important issue for the West as well. Both France’s François Hollande and Great Britain’s David Cameron discussed the purchase of 126 aircraft as part of the Indian Air Force Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. But Russia has an ace up its sleeve – progress in the development of its fifth-generation fighter. The MMRCA project has lost its military and technological relevance, because the bids are for older fourth-generation jet fighters. Given India’s plans to operate them for the next 40 or 50 years, the launch of a fifth-generation machine will be a sensible alternative to MMRCA, and Russia is the only possible partner for the Indian Air Force. However, the combined effort of the entire Russian government would be required to initiate such a huge project, and as long as Rosoboronexport remains the only driver of Russian-Indian military relationship, this hypothetical alternative will never come true.

The writer is Deputy Director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

First published in Russian in Kommersant.

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