Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 176

With the clock ticking down to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s October 2-5 visit to India, preparations have gone into overdrive this week to ensure that the trip is successful. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who oversees Russian defense production and is also the Russian cochairman of a joint Russian-Indian joint trade commission, arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday in hopes of putting the final touches on a raft agreements that are scheduled to be signed during Putin’s visit. In political terms, the highlight of those agreements will be a Declaration on Strategic Partnership which, according to an Indian foreign office spokesman, will elevate the multifaceted and comprehensive ties between the two countries to an “even higher and qualitatively new level.” Equally important, however, will be a package of arms sale agreements that will earn Russian defense contractors millions of dollars. In addition, the two sides hope to finalize a major nuclear cooperation agreement which will greatly expand cooperation in that area. In all, some fifteen agreements are reportedly under discussion in New Delhi now. Officials from the two countries suggest that about a dozen of them should be ready by the time Putin arrives in New Delhi. Some, including the various of the arms deals, could reportedly even be signed before the October 2-5 summit.

It is no surprise that Putin’s visit to India is being viewed by both countries as the culmination of a long diplomatic effort aimed at cementing a bilateral partnership agreement. Indeed, the Russian president’s arrival is in some respects at least several years late. Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had on several occasions tentatively scheduled visits of his own to New Delhi where the highlight was also to have been the signing of a strategic partnership agreement. Those visits never came off, however, in large part because of Yeltsin’s many physical ailments and his domestic political problems. But some continuing tensions between Moscow and New Delhi, and difficulties in finalizing some of the major agreements to be signed in October, probably also played a role in the postponements.

In general, those sorts of difficulties appear to be largely a thing of the past. During a series of high-level contacts this past summer, the two sides loudly proclaimed their desire for improved relations and began pointing to next month’s summit (see the Monitor, July 5). A similar sort of rhetoric has been in evidence during Klebanov’s visit to New Delhi this week, and also during parallel talks in New York between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. Both sides have underscored their unanimity of views on a host of key international issues, including the construction of a “just world order of a multipolar architecture,” as well as joint support for preserving the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty as the basis for continued international security. Russian and Indian diplomats have also spoken of the challenge both Moscow and New Delhi face in counterthreats posed by “rising religious extremism, separatism, international terrorism and transborder crimes.”

Klebanov indicated this week that Moscow and New Delhi also hope to boost bilateral trade and broader economic interaction. In this sense, the dilemma faced by the two countries is similar to that which Moscow faces with regard to China. In both cases the two countries have declared themselves to be strategic partners (Russia and China signed an agreement to this effect under Boris Yeltsin), but have had little luck in substantiating this political declaration with concrete forms of economic cooperation. Indeed, at US$2 billion per year, Indian-Russian trade turnover is even more anemic than that between Russia and China (US$6 billion in 1999). To–with luck–remedy this situation, a number of commercial agreements, which Putin and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee are expected to sign, have been drawn up. According to Klebanov, the two sides are working out “programs in areas such as information technology, pharmaceuticals, civilian aviation, biotechnology and high-technology.” There are also said to be plans for commercial dealings in agriculture, in energy exploration and development and, possibly, in production and processing of diamonds.

That the arms sales agreements are potentially the most lucrative of all for Moscow was suggested, however, by the size of the defense complex contingent that reportedly accompanied Klebanov to India this week. According to Kommersant daily, this group includes general directors from three different defense agencies (control system, conventional arms and ship-building), the heads of the Rosvooruzhenie and Promeksport state arms trading companies, directors of several large military enterprises and representatives of the Defense Ministry (Kommersant daily, September 20).

The two most important deals currently under negotiation involve India’s purchase of Russian T-90 tanks and MiG-29K jet fighters. According to the most recent reports describing the first agreement, New Delhi is to receive some 300 T-90s–124 by direct export from Russia and the remaining 186 in the form of kits which are to be assembled under license in India. Negotiations to finalize the tank deal have been long-lasting and difficult, with the Indians reportedly pushing for a price of US$2 million per unit and the Russians insisting on US$2.12. In any event, the negotiations are said to be nearly complete and the deal to be worth approximately US$750 million. It is, in other words, a huge contract for the Russian tank makers, the Uralvagonzavod in Nizhny Tagil and the Chelyabinsk transport factory. The MiG deal is said to be worth considerably more–roughly US$1.8 billion. Like the tank sale, it has been the object of intense negotiations (see the Monitor, August 7).

Aside from the actual agreements to be signed, Putin is scheduled during his visit to India to meet with Indian President K.R. Narayanan and other top officials. In addition, he will address members of both houses of parliament on October 4 (Express News Service, RIA, Russian agencies, September 20; The Hindu, The Economic Times, September 21; Times of India, September 14,16, 17,21; AFP, August 31, September 21).