Russia-India co-operation is not limited to defence

Before departing for a three-day visit to India beginning January 19, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov granted an interview to Viktor Litovkin, RIA Novosti military analyst

What is the goal of your visit?

India is a major strategic partner not only and not so much in the military and military-technical sphere, as in the political and economic spheres. India is the world's largest democracy in terms of population. We do not have and cannot have any differences with India. We have never fought and our political leaderships have similar views on a new world order based on multilateral relations and on key issues of security. We fully share Indian leadership's view that international security today cannot be ensured to the detriment of interests of individual countries, let alone such a major power as India. You know that Russia supports incorporating India into the UN Security Council in the case of the reform of that agency.

The agenda of my visit to India includes the signing of a major agreement on the delivery of the Admiral Gorshkov air-capable cruiser to India. I hope that the contracts will be ready and initialled when I arrive in India. Since Gorshkov is an air-capable cruiser, nobody needs it without deck-top aviation. Logically enough, the contract includes the delivery of fighters.

What is your view of the current state and the prospects of Russia-India military-technical co-operation? Will Russia deliver nuclear submarines and Tu-22 fighters to India?

The military-technical co-operation of the Soviet Union and India (Russia and India) dates back to 1960. Since them, the overall volume of contracts in the sphere of military-technical co-operation reached $33 billion. If our co-operation only developed in any one area, such as aviation or navy, we would not have reached the current volumes by any means.

The joint creation of the Brahmos missile became a new form of Russian-Indian co-operation. We are fully satisfied with this form of co-operation. As far as I know, it also suits India. We have created a naval missile that has no analogues in the world in many respects. But our co-operation is not limited to this. We are working jointly on the T-72 and T-90 tanks for the land forces and the Su-30MKI plane for the air force. Last year Russia dispatched modern frigates to India. In a word, our co-operation is truly multifaceted and broad.

I foresee that the co-operation of our defence enterprises, from the initial stages of the joint creation of weapons and embracing R&D, creation, production and tests, will gain considerable weight. A great deal of weaponry is produced in India by Soviet and Russian licenses, in co-operation and under proper quality control. This testifies to a high level of partnership and trust between our states and defence departments.

As for the sale of nuclear submarines [to India], I can tell you that Russia has always complied and will always comply with international obligations in its military-technical co-operation with any state. Russia and India continue working on a Tu-22 naval bomber, which does not and will not carry nuclear weapons. We would not have worked on it otherwise.

Will you comment on the development of co-operation between the naval departments? Will Russia and India hold more joint military exercises?

Yes, they will. We plan to discuss this issue with our Indian colleagues. I will not reveal our plans but in the spring and summer of 2003 we held the first joint exercises in the Arabian Sea in the past ten years. India's Eastern and Western fleets took part in the exercise with the Russian Pacific and Black Sea fleets. I think we should hold more such joint exercises of the navies and other services.

What do you think about Russia-India strategic partnership in the defence sphere on the global and regional scale?

I have already answered this question partially but here is what I want to add. I will begin with a sphere that is unusual for the military - culture. You know what influence Leo Tolstoy had on Mahatma Gandhi. At the same time, we should remember the tens of thousands of Russian specialists from different walks of life who have worked in India. All of this is recorded in the genetic memory of the nation. Russian society and people have deep and sincere sympathy for India. We have no geopolitical, cultural or any other contradictions. We have very similar views not only on the issues of big politics, defence and world order, but also on common things of everyday life. You probably noticed that Muscovites love Indian restaurants, which have mushroomed in the capital. Business and energy co-operation has been developing energetically in the past few years. One example is the Sakhalin-2 project, in which the Indian business made major investments.

It is from this thick and multilevel fabric that our strategic partnership is woven. Defence is only an individual thread of this partnership. I want to stress this again, so that nobody would think that we develop ties only in the military and military-technical spheres. On the contrary, it is our multilateral strategic ties and limitless trust for each other that make deep military-technical co-operation possible.

Now about the regional plan. Asia is one of the most troubledcontinents. I am happy to note here that some positive trends have outlined in the India-Pakistan relations. We greatly value and appreciate India's unambiguous attitude toward the recent armed conflict in the Chechen Republic. Today, I believe, we are on the right path toward the conflict's settlement, having done much to achieve it in the past few years. It is worth noting that India and Russia share one common approach toward global terrorism and the principles of inadmissibility of double standards. Also, the two nations' shared position on the settlement in Afghanistan and the joint efforts of our defense ministries and special services in this sphere prove that the two countries hold similar positions on the settlement of regional conflicts, including those linked to anti-terrorist operations.

What threats to international security do you see in South and Central Asia?

That region is plagued by a host of problems, related to demography, religion and extremism. And worst of all, poverty. Those aspects make the situation in the region hardly predictable. There is a threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction there - if they fall into the hands of irresponsible governments or terrorist groups. Russia and India share common approaches to this problem and to removal of such threats, which, of course, involve the UN's dominating role and the use of diplomatic and economic measures, first of all.

India has shown ever greater activity in Central Asia lately. Do you think India's military presence there will promote stability? Is our two countries' cooperation possible in that sphere?

I am aware of India's desire to reconstruct the runway in Aini, Tajikistan, in order to use it for the needs of its airforce in the future. I believe that India's participation, in any form, in providing aid to the CIS and CSTO countries, located in Central Asia, as well as Russia's attempts to act as mediator in South Asia, will be welcome. However, the relevant consultations are being held through closed diplomatic channels as of today, so it would be premature to discuss them here. Still, the following assumption, I think, is a matter of principle anyway: if we engage in global cooperation, why can't we cooperate in that region as well?!

What is India's role in developing a fifth-generation fighter? Is it possible that China will join the project?

This is exactly what I was talking about in the beginning. It is a kind of work where we determine our common goal with India, unite our resources, our technological, intellectual and industrial capabilities in order to solve one serious task, that is, to create a fifth generation plane. The talks on the issue have already taken place, there are common approaches and I hope they will be turned into a concrete product.

If China is ready to joint the project, I will only welcome it. I believe that such a triple union is very beneficial not only for this project, but also in many areas of military and technical cooperation, in the defence sphere. I am positive that this would contribute to stability and security in Asia. After all, two-thirds of Russia is an Asian country.

Do you think it is feasible?

I have told journalists many times that, like James Bond, I never say never.

What measures does Russia take to increase the quality of Su-30MKI fighters and other aviation equipment supplied to India with view to the recent problems, including supplies of spare parts? What can and must we do to make our products much better than their analogues on the world market?

I do not want to go into technical details. The committee for military and technical cooperation and Rosoboronexport are dealing with these issues. Recently we have taken a number of serious measures to improve their work. I am certain that all of them will improve military and technical cooperation. As to supplies of spare parts and possibility to do it quickly, to create service centers, all necessary decisions have already been made. This is true not only about planes, but also about any other equipment Russia has supplied to India or created together with it.

Our equipment has to be better than that of our rivals. Its price should be affordable. Military and technical cooperation is a sphere of extremely tight competition all over the world. Nevertheless, we are not going to monopolise the Indian market. This would be unreasonable. Yet we should see clearly that all kinds of tricks, plausible and implausible, ethical and unethical are used against us. And I, for one, believe that we may use the same methods against our rivals, including the opportunities of mass media. Have I been outspoken enough?

Yes, quite.

Viktor Litovkin, RIAN

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Author`s name Petr Ermilin