New Delhi: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s warm reception in India, including wrapping up a stealth fighter jets deal potentially worth $35 billion, dispels Russian fears its former Cold War ally has turned to the West.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has in the space of a few months hosted all the leaders of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, said “Russia is a time-tested friend of India” at the start of Medvedev’s two-day trip on Tuesday.
Russia has been India’s close economic and political partner since Soviet days, and monopolised India’s defence market for decades, but India wants to reduce its reliance on one country to reflect its growing influence on the world stage.
“President Dmitry Medvedev has done well to dispel the growing misperception that Indo-Russian relations have lost their salience amidst India’s new warmth with the US and the West,” the Indian Express newspaper said in an editorial on Wednesday.
Medvedev will spend his last day in India touring the Taj Mahal in Agra, meeting students in Mumbai and touring “Bollywood” film studios. Russia joined the United States and France in offering support for India for a permanent seat at an expanded Security Council to reflect the growing might of emerging economies.
India says a seat on the Security Council would reflect the G-20 nation’s importance as its $1.3 trillion economy helps spur global growth and its government exerts more and more influence over issues from Doha trade to climate talks.
India’s growing ties with the United States, underscored by a landmark civil nuclear deal, has made Russia ill at ease.
India, the second fastest-growing major economy in the world after China, is one of the top arms importers and plans to spend about $50 billion on defence in the next few years to upgrade its ageing Soviet-era arsenal, mainly to counter a perceived China threat.
World leaders, accompanied by top executives, are hungry to secure a slice of India’s economy, expected to grow at near-double digit rates for the next decade, making it one of the five largest economies in the world by 2020.
Russia has long seen India as a counterweight to China and a potential ally in Afghanistan. “The strategic, economic and political importance of Russia can not be overstated,” said Bhaskar Roy, a New Delhi-based strategic affairs columnist.
“India needs Russia for its energy requirements, to counter-balance China, for retaining influence in Afghanistan once the Western troops leave, for influence in energy-rich Central Asia, and generally for support and backing at all major international fora. India needs Russia to realise its ambitions, global goals,” Roy said.
No details were given as to the size of the potential aircraft deal between Russia and India, but both countries have in the past talked about producing 250-300 such fighters over 10 years, unofficially said to be worth about $35 billion.
“That in turn has enormously increased India’s bargaining power with the US and European suppliers of advanced conventional weapons,” the Indian Express said.
Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, France’s Dassault Rafale, Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16, Russia’s MiG-35, Sweden’s Saab <SAABb.ST> JAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon are competing for a separate order from India for 126 fighter jets, valued at about $10.4 billion.
India and Russia agreed to open talks on building a third and fourth reactors for a nuclear power plant in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, but failed to sign a firm deal because of Russian concerns over a recently passed liabilities bill.