PNS/PTI | New Delhi/Moscow
Longstanding defence and strategic relations between India and Russia are under strain with Moscow calling off a scheduled joint naval exercise at short notice in an apparent move to express its displeasure over New Delhi exploring global markets for weapons procurement.
The Russian decision has been slammed by country defence experts and the media while the Indian Navy is also unhappy with the development.
The incident took place late in April when five Indian Navy warships sailed for waters off Vladivostok for the joint naval exercise. The Indian contingent reached Vladivostok and made a ‘port call’ before returning home after Russians abruptly called off the exercise.
This action was sharply criticised by Russian defence experts who said calling off the exercise by Moscow was “simply stupid when several countries are waiting in queue to hold such an exercise with India.”
While the Russians later said the exercise was called off due to the nuclear disaster in Japan following the tsunami, sources here said on Wednesday that several Russian warships were later seen carrying out combat drills in the waters off Vladivostok.
Peeved at the snub, the Indian Navy lodged a protest along with a detailed report to the Indian Defence Ministry, sources said adding the External Affairs Ministry was also apprised of the facts. Incidentally, the schedule for the joint exercise was planned months in advance, they said.
The development has put a question mark over the joint Army exercise ‘Indra’ between the two countries later this year. Focussed on honing anti-terrorism drills in urban and rural scenario, the two sides have held some preliminary meetings to plan the exercise but the dates are yet to be finalised.
It was learnt that Russia, which is the biggest arms supplier to India, is unhappy with New Delhi now exploring the Western world for procuring weapons and critical spare parts. Regular supply of spare parts from Russia has been a problem for the last one decade since the disintegration of Soviet Union and the issue has cropped up many times in talks between top political leadership of both countries.
Moreover, Russia now prefers to pitch for its equipment and the Indian security establishment decided some years back to expand its vendor base to inject more competition and get a better deal for lesser money, sources said.
A top Russian defence expert has said Moscow is not taking defence interaction with India seriously and described the cancellation of a naval drill recently with it as “simply stupid.”
“While other nations wait in the queue to develop military interaction with India, Russia is not behaving seriously. There is no need to be surprised that India is more and more turning towards western partners —- at least more serious and stable,” said Mikhail Barabanov, editor of Moscow Defence Brief monthly, was quoted as saying by financial daily ‘Vedomosti.’
He said: “The Russian decision to cancel war games with the main military-technical partner is simply stupid.”
Barabanov also noted the Russian and Indian Air forces have never carried out joint drills, “probably because the Indian pilots on their Russian built SU-30MKI fighters will easily win over the Russian pilots, with inferior aircraft and less flying experience.”
“It is noteworthy that Indian pilots with SU-30MKI fighters have participated several times in joint drills with USAF and other major Western nations,” he said.
Another major daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes the Russian decision to cancel a war drill at the last moment is believed as Moscow’s “snub” to India for rejection of MiG-35 fighters in the IAF’s tender for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), in which French Rafale and European Eurofighter Typhoon have been shortlisted.
Tatiana Shaumyan, director of Centre for Indian Studies of the Science Academy’s Oriental Institute, said the “poor planning” of the Russian side may be detrimental to the defence cooperation.
“Russia and India have several decade-long traditions of geopolitical, trade, economic and defence co-operation. The military-technical cooperation had been the one of the main pillars of the Russian-Indian relations. And now in this crucial sphere a ‘snag’ has occurred probably due to bad planning by the Russian side,” Shaumyan said.
She cautioned that it could affect the interaction of armed forces of the two “friendly States.”