Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 231

Russian news sources have suggested regularly in recent weeks that India and Russia are about to sign a series of arms agreements which will greatly increase revenues for Moscow from the country’s already lucrative arms dealings with New Delhi. According to one Russian daily, for example, two top Russian defense officials met twice with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes during a recent arms exhibition in India. Discussion reportedly centered on a comprehensive agreement which will augment and extend by ten years–until the year 2010–an earlier Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation program. The new accord reportedly outlines the purchase by India of Russian-made T-90 tanks, S-300PMU-1 anti-aircraft complexes, several frigates and another submarine. The two sides have reportedly also launched a new round of negotiations into the purchase by India of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 11).

Momentum toward the signing of the long-term military-technical cooperation agreement had been building in anticipation of a Russian-Indian summit meeting scheduled for the first week of December. In mid-November a large Indian defense delegation toured Russia and participated in a meeting of a Russian-Indian working group which focuses on military-technical cooperation. The two sides reportedly made considerable progress on the comprehensive agreement during those talks (Russian agencies, November 13).

Soon thereafter, however, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev canceled a visit to India at which the finishing touches were to have been put on the agreement. More important, ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced on November 18 that he would not be traveling to New Delhi as planned in early December. This appeared to put on hold a number of Indian-Russian agreements–including the military-technical accord–which were to have been signed while the Russian president was in India (Itar-Tass, November 17-18).

It now appears, however, that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will stand in as a full replacement for Yeltsin during Primakov’s December 20-22 visit to India. According to Russian news sources, Primakov will affix his signature to a number of agreements, including several trade accords and the long-term military-technical agreement (Itar-Tass, December 11).

The scope of the defense agreement is of considerable importance to Russia’s sagging defense industrial sector. Moscow has been India’s primary arms supplier for more than twenty-five years, and it is estimated that Soviet-or Russian-made equipment makes up more than 70 percent of the hardware used by India’s armed forces. In the post-Soviet period, moreover, Russian arms sales to India have reportedly brought in revenues amounting to approximately US$800 annually (Tribuna, November 26). As Russia’s own procurement budget falls through the floor, Russian political and military leaders are counting on foreign arms sales to keep the country’s defense sector alive. India, along with China, is seen as one of the key links in that strategy.