October 25, 2005

Russia trips over Indian defense ties , "arm twist" in arms race ?

By Tara Shankar Sahay

NEW DELHI - Defense cooperation between India and Russia, which in recent years has included joint-development of cruise missiles, hit an air pocket when visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov insisted on an intellectual property rights (IPR) agreement between the former Cold War allies.

A "friendly warning" on the issue was delivered by Ivanov during his four-day visit last week to witness Indo-Russian war games carried out in the deserts of western Rajasthan state involving elite troops and state-of-the-art equipment.

Russian anxiety in clinching the IPR agreement was apparent when Ivanov went to the extent of hinting that future defense cooperation with India, which has dramatically increased military ties with the United States over the past two years, would hinge

on a formal IPR agreement.

Ivanov also made a pointed reference to the fact that the issue figured prominently during President Vladimir Putin's visit to India last year and that since then there has been little movement on the issue.

"I think that it [IPR agreement] is under the active consideration of the Ministry of Defense," said Commodore Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the state-funded think tank, Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA ). "They [the Russians] are giving us military hardware that we need and their anxiety in this context is understandable," he told Inter Press Service (IPS).

Ivanov said the two countries had outstripped the old, client-provider relationship on the weapons front after they jointly developed the sophisticated BrahMos cruise missile, which is said to be superior to the US Tomahawak cruise missile in many respects.

Multi-million dollar contracts signed with Russia in recent years include those for licensed production of the advanced Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, the T-90S main battle tank, stealth frigates for the Indian navy and the purchase of an aircraft carrier.

Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam personally favors aggressive joint-marketing of the BrahMos missile, which is a product of the two countries' joint research and development establishments, and already there are firm orders from 10 countries.

Kalam himself is a top rocket scientist and a former chief of India's secretive defense Research and Development Organization, which shared equal credit with the Russians for the development of the missile that is to be marketed by the joint-venture BrahMos Aerospace.

BrahMos is a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile with a 300-kilometer range. It can be launched from air, submarine or land and can turn 360 degrees, generating concern on the Indian sub-continent, particularly from long-time military rival Pakistan.

The post Cold War era saw Russia doing away with a rupee-rouble arrangement and insisting that India pay for up to 70% of defense purchases in hard cash. Russia still provides India the bulk of its military hardware and Ivanov himself pegged the figure at 40%.

Explaining Russia's insistence on India signing the IPR agreement with it, Pravin Sawhney, defense analyst and editor of the national security magazine Force, said: "Moscow is impatient because it is the first time that it has gone on the partnership mode with India in the area of joint defense production, but is apprehensive that its cutting-edge technology could be leaked out to a third party."

"Moscow wants to monitor its end-use restriction and also ensure that there is no internal proliferation," Sawhney pointed out in an IPS interview.

His reference to "internal proliferation" alluded, for instance, to the possibility of India using certain cutting-edge technologies, such as those pertaining to cryogenic engines for space launches being used to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles.

A senior Defense Ministry official, unwilling to be named, contended that with the Indian government now shopping for arms from countries such as Israel and the US, Moscow was bound to be apprehensive.

It is no secret that Russia resents Israel's emergence as a major arms supplier to India. During September 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India and discussed provision of the coveted Phalcon airborne early warning system and the anti-ballistic Arrow missile, which New Delhi feels must be an indispensable part of its armory to negate possible nuclear attack from Pakistan.

The Russians have noted that Israel now annually supplies US$2 billion worth of military hardware to India.

Also, on July 18, President George W Bush signed an accord with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledging to help India gain access to international civilian nuclear technology, although this country has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, another vestige of the Cold War.

The agreement, which awaits Congressional approval, was seen by many as the final weaning away of India into the Western camp after decades of isolation - featuring embargoes on the export to this country of "dual-use" technologies, especially those relating to space and nuclear applications.

Sawhney, however, has no doubt that the IPR agreement between New Delhi and Moscow will fructify in a few months because "we want the sophisticated Russian technology now, whereas earlier we preferred arms in large numbers over top-grade quality in view of our country's large size."

He says the Russian waiver of an earlier demand that the IPR agreement be implemented with retrospective effect (from the Soviet era onwards) has benefited India greatly, considering the vast amounts of defense technology and equipment transferred to this country during the Cold War years.

Sharing Sawhney's views was defense expert and former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, S Sreedhar Rao. "India is aware about its international obligations, especially when it comes to time-tested friendly countries. We are minutely scrutinizing the IPR agreement and in a vast country like ours, implementing it is going to take some time," Rao told IPS.

Top Indian defense analysts like C Raja Mohan have highlighted the inevitability of Russia fending off growing competition in the Indian defense market and adapting the old Indo-Russian defense cooperation to the new realities in the region.

The reminder from Ivanov, of the sensitive IPR issue on joint Indo-Russian defense production, is seen as a minor prickle in relations between the two countries, given that there is too much at stake for both.

Ultimately, analysts believe, Russia will continue to be India's main arms supplier for reasons of integration built up over decades, while Russia cannot find as lucrative and as big a market as India for its defense production.

(Inter Press Service)

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