When defence minister Manohar Parrikar sat down with his Russian counterpart General Sergey Shoigu for the 16th meeting of the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation on Wednesday, it was with an aim to reassure the Russians of New Delhi’s political commitment to the bilateral relationship. To remove any misgivings that may have crept up in Moscow, Parrikar, in fact, explicitly stated in his opening remarks at the meeting that Russia “will continue to remain our primary defence partner”.
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“In the government, we felt that we need to try and recapture the dynamism of military-to-military interaction that was earlier between India and Russia,” top government sources told The Indian Express. To recapture the dynamism, according to sources, Parrikar handed over a non-paper to General Shoigu, which has proposals for institutionalising the interaction between the two countries. As a first step towards that, Parrikar proposed the expansion of Military-Technical commission to a Military and Military-Technical commission which was readily accepted by his Russian counterpart.
The non-paper proposes that India and Russia will increase the number of joint military exercises, increase their frequency and make them more complex. It also suggests more robust staff-level talks between Indian and Russian defence ministries, which will feed into institutionalised senior-level dialogues. These proposals are part of the changed thinking in the government circles that defence has to be the core driver of India-Russia relationship.
“The idea is to increase the surface level of interaction between India and Russia defence ministries. That is one important outcome of the meeting,” source added. While there is a scope for improvement but the two sides recognise that there has been good progress as India has committed to making big-ticket defence purchases from Russia. According to sources, Moscow knows that India’s relationship with the US is independent of the India-Russia relationship and it is not a zero-sum game.
Parrikar also raised the issue of joint Russia-Pakistan military exercises, which were held on Pakistani soil, immediately after the Uri terror attack which led to the death of 19 Indian soldiers. While the Indian side said that it had hurt the public sentiment in the country, the Russians were dismissive of the joint drill, calling it “minor and routine”.
The two sides also discussed the issue of spares for the defence equipment of Russian and Soviet origin, which forms two-thirds of the Indian inventory. Moscow needs a Presidential decree to amend the regulations whereby Indian companies can directly deal with Russian producers of components. A conference is also planned in New Delhi next month to explore the possibility of Indian private defence manufacturers to produce these components here in India.
The issue of maintenance of MiG-29K naval fighters, whose serviceability has been adversely commented upon by the CAG, was also raised by the Indian side. The Russians were asked to expedite the start of the contractually obligated maintenance facilities in India. The two sides also looked at expediting the joint production of Kamov helicopters, in accordance with the deal signed in Goa earlier this month. The Indian side also informed the Russians that they are still studying the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft proposal, which will need to be a part of the broader plan for the aerospace industry in India.