Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 106

A senior Russian diplomat said yesterday that a visit to Moscow by Indian Foreign and Defense Minister Jaswant Singh, scheduled to start on June 3, is to focus on Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation–that is, Russian arms sales to New Delhi. The statement underscored once again the central role that arms dealings play in what Moscow and New Delhi have called their “strategic partnership.” At present, India stands along with China as the world’s two major purchasers of Russian military hardware, and is reportedly the recipient of approximately one-third of all Russia’s foreign arms exports, which totaled some US$3.7 billion in 2000. Russian export of arms to India is conducted on the basis of an earlier agreement covering military-technical cooperation between the two countries to the year 2010, the total value of which, according to a recent Russian source, is estimated at between US$10 and US$16 billion. From New Delhi’s perspective, Russia is India’s major arms supplier and the country of origin (along with the former Soviet Union) for nearly 75 percent of all India’s military hardware.

Singh’s negotiations in Moscow are to be conducted under the auspices of an Indian-Russian military-technical cooperation commission that was established last year to coordinate and expedite dealings in this area. It will be the first meeting of the commission. An earlier meeting had been scheduled in April but was postponed in the wake of an arms procurement corruption scandal that ultimately cost then Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes his job. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who oversees Russia’s defense industrial sector, co-chairs the commission along with Singh. Indian and Russian sources did not detail the likely substance of the discussions between Singh and Klebanov, but they suggested that new arms deals–or talks aimed at finalizing earlier arms agreements–were likely to be on the agenda. Moscow and New Delhi have most recently finalized major agreements concerning the sale to India (or production under Russian license) of Su-30MKI multirole fighter jets and T-90 main battle tanks (see the Monitor, January 5, February 19). Reports have suggested that the two countries are still negotiating over the possible lease by Russia to India of four Russian long-range reconnaissance Tu-22M aircraft and the possible purchase by New Delhi of Russian A-50 “AWACS.” The two sides have also been in negotiations for a number of years now over the possible purchase by India of the Russian Kiev-class aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (Times of India, May 24; Russian agencies, May 28, 31).

In addition to holding the arms sales talks with Klebanov, Singh is expected to meet with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov during his stay in Moscow. He is likely also to be received by President Vladimir Putin. Those talks, and particularly the meeting with Foreign Minister Ivanov, will reportedly be devoted to broader strategic security issues, including Indian and Russian views on U.S. missile defense plans. The Indian government surprised many observers–in India and abroad–when it praised U.S. President George W. Bush’s May 1 speech laying out Washington’s missile defense plans, and relations between the United States and India have continued to show signs of warming in the weeks that have passed since that time. Indeed, the apparent shift in Indian policy away from opposition to U.S. missile defense deployment appeared to dominate talks in New Delhi several days later between Singh and Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov. The latter made the best of a potentially difficult situation, however, winning an Indian endorsement of Russia’s support for upholding the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He also pointedly placed New Delhi’s support for U.S. missile defense within the context of Washington’s then newly stated commitment to consult with world governments on the issue, and suggested (albeit not entirely convincingly) that the views of New Delhi and Moscow continued to coincide in this area (see the Monitor, May 8).

The U.S. missile defense plan clearly has, however, shown the potential to encourage a reshaping of relations between India, China and Russia–Asia’s major continental powers–and the Singh visit to Moscow should probably be seen in this context. Indeed, with Washington now wooing both Moscow and New Delhi on the missile defense issue, and seeking simultaneously to isolate Beijing, the remainder of this year may prove to be a crucial period for Asian security. Maneuvering between and among the United States, Russia, China and India is likely to be played out in a series of summit meetings that will take place before the end of 2001. They will include at least two meetings between the Russian and U.S. presidents, as well as a Russian-Chinese summit in July (at which a friendship treaty is expected to be signed) and an Indian-Russian summit scheduled for this fall.