x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Putin signs $2.9bn arms deal in Delhi

Despite multibillion-dollar military deal, analysts suggest there are problems in India's relationship with Russia, as Pakistan also courts Moscow.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin (left) and India’s Manmohan Singh address the media after announcing yesterday’s arms deal.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin (left) and India’s Manmohan Singh address the media after announcing yesterday’s arms deal.

NEW DELHI // The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, visited New Delhi yesterday to sign multibillion-dollar deals to sell military equipment, while promising to strengthen military and technical cooperation.

Russia has long been India's chief supplier of arms but problems have crept into their relationship in recent years, which has prompted some analysts to suggest that Pakistan, India's immediate military rival, has been seeking to strengthen its relationship with Moscow.

Although Mr Putin's visit to India was shortened from 3 days to less than a day, he sealed sales worth US$2.9 billion (Dh10.6bn) - including a $1.6bn deal for 42 Sukhoi fighter planes and another worth $1.3bn for 71 Mil military helicopters. Before he arrived, analysts had speculated that military contracts worth as much as $7.5bn would be signed.

According to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, India has imported 77 per cent of its defence equipment from Russia during the past decade.

Mr Putin also held talks with the the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, about defence contracts and the future of Afghanistan after US forces withdraw in 2014.

"India and Russia share the objective of a stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, free from extremism," Mr Singh said after the meeting.

In a column he wrote for The Hindu newspaper, Mr Putin noted that trade between India and Russia "has overcome the consequences of the global crisis, and in 2012 we expect to reach record numbers, over $10bn (Dh36.7bn). Our next goal is to reach $20bn by 2015."

But the relationship between the countries has been hampered by Russia's non-delivery of the Admiral Gorshkov, a second-hand aircraft carrier that India agreed to buy in 2004 for $947 million. The date of delivery was revised from August 2008 to December 2012, and now it has been changed again to November 2013.

AK Antony, India's defence minister, told the upper house of parliament this month that repairs and sea trials on the ship had yet to be completed.

Recently, India has started looking elsewhere for some of its military procurement. Earlier this year, it signed an $11bn deal with the French company, Dassault Aviation, for 126 Rafale fighter aircraft.

Last month, India also bought 22 Apache helicopters and 15 Chinook helicopters from US firms, in a deal worth $2.4bn.

But Sushant Singh, a defence policy fellow at the Takshashila Institution, a Chennai-based think tank, said that India had pressed Mr Putin to visit New Delhi "because there is a general feeling that Pakistan is wooing Russia".

"His trip was supposed to be for three days, and then it was reduced to 48 hours, and finally it was basically a four-hour official trip," Mr Singh said. "There's a feeling that we might be losing traction with Russia."

Mr Singh also said India had sought to discuss with Mr Putin the issue of the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, a town in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Russia is in the process of constructing two of the new nuclear plants. India wants to apply its new civilian nuclear liability laws to these plants, even though the agreement to build the reactors was signed in 2008, before the stricter consumer laws were passed in 2010.

In the event of a nuclear accident, the 2010 law allows India's chief nuclear operator to pass on damages to the suppliers and builders of the plants.

In The Hindu, Mr Putin wrote of the advantages of the Kudankulam power plant, pointing out that it would "significantly reduce the energy deficiency in southern states of India, and eventually eliminate it completely".

Mr Singh, in his media briefing, would only comment on the matter obliquely, saying: "Negotiations for the construction of units 3 and 4 have made good progress."

The protests that beset central New Delhi through the weekend because of the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student more than a week ago forced changes in Mr Putin's schedule.

He met Mr Singh at the Indian prime minister's residence instead of the Hyderabad House, the official reception venue for dignitaries.

Fewer journalists than usual were allowed in to the ceremony where Mr Putin and Mr Singh signed the agreements. Several roads were cordoned off, and all of central Delhi came under a heavy blanket of security personnel.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae