India to negotiate price for Russian warships next week: Move could boost New Delhi's ties with its most important defence ally

India will begin negotiations with Russia next week regarding the acquisition of four stealth frigates to scale up the Indian Navy's capabilities, a report in Hindustan Times quoted a senior government official as saying.

The report quoted defence sources as saying that India is prepared to bargain hard for the project. "Price negotiation with a visiting Russian delegation will begin on 15 January. GSL has the expertise and infrastructure to build the warships in the country," said the public sector yard's chairman, Rear Admiral Shekhar Mital (retd).

Of the four new stealth frigates, two will be constructed in Kaliningrad while two others will be at Goa. They will take the total number of Russian stealth frigates with India to 10; India currently operates six frigates purchased from Russia between 2003 and 2013 — three each of the Talwar Class and Teg Class.

File image of Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin. AP

File image of Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin. AP

The move comes just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian president Vladimir Putin on the occasion of New Year, and the two sides vowed to strengthen special and privileged bilateral partnerships.

"They discussed the intensification of the bilateral relations between India and Russia and their cooperation on international forums," the release said.

They positively reviewed the exchanges between the two countries in 2017 and agreed to further strengthen the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia, it said.

Course correction

The deal signed with Russia would be a type of course correction for India, which has inched towards the US in recent years. Though Russia still remains India's largest defence supplier, New Delhi has begun looking towards the US for its top-of-the-line defence requirements.

As reported by Firstpost earlier, Russia contributes 68 percent of India's total arms import, while the US is a distant second place with 14 percent.

However, as pointed out in a separate copy by The Times of India, if you narrow it down to deals struck in recent years, the US would actually overtake Moscow to top spot. Russia has notched military sales worth over $40 billion since the first MiG-21 jets and T-55 tanks in the 1960s to the present-day Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and T-90S main-battle tanks, The Times of India report said.

However, the US is aggressively working at making inroads into the Indian defence market. And not only them, Israel and France are also eyeing this sector. India, incidentally, has turned to Israel even to upgrade some of its Russian-origin equipment, The Times of India report added.

From 2007 onwards, the report said, the US has bagged Indian defence deals worth almost $10 billion, including deals for 12 C-130J 'Super Hercules' aircraft, eight P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft and 10 C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft ($4.1 billion).

All this is happening at a time when ties between the US and Russia are frayed. Technical cooperation between India and the US is coming at a time when there exists great distrust between Washington and Moscow since the Ukraine crisis. A report on The Hindu said Moscow is increasingly wary of US-India defence cooperation lest it compromises existing Russian defence technology in Indian hands.

At times like these, if India and Russia manage to sign the defence pacts for four stealth frigates, it will come as a great boost to their bilateral ties. As mentioned by the report on The Hindu, India can ill afford to alienate Russia. Moscow's technical assistance to India’s indigenous nuclear submarine programme has been immense. Its first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, was with Moscow's assistance, and this assistance is something that India's next generation of nuclear submarines would also need.

Russian naval personnel are always on board its nuclear submarines which are leased to India, the report said. And though some Indian strategists now argue for US technical cooperation in naval nuclear propulsion, New Delhi knows it will be difficult for the US to overcome its reluctance to share military nuclear technology with India. For the sake of future possibility of cooperation with the US, India is unlikely to alienate its most important defence partner.

With inputs from PTI


Updated Date: Jan 11, 2018 14:54 PM

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