Sad tale of India's row with Russia

Sumantra Maitra - Calcutta, India

Russia and India were comrades during the Cold War. But now it is evident that the two "blood brothers" as they used to be, are no longer sharing the same cordial warmth of old times.

The dramatic change in relations came to the fore with the unprecedented remarks of the Indian navy chief, Admiral Suresh Mehta. Though the foreign ministries of both countries have rushed to save face, the row between the two mighty countries is open this time. The crunch point came over a huge military contract given to Russia by India.

Tempers flared over the cost overrun and delay in the delivery of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshcov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya, which was likely to be inducted in the naval force this year, but which is now in deep waters.

The Indians signed a contract to pay $1.5 billion, of which $450 million has been paid already. Russians are now demanding $1 billion more, citing technical problems, and this particular incident is seen to be a betrayal by the Indian side. But inside information reveals that there is more to this than meets the eye. Let's take a look.

Russia as we know, was and still is the heaviest supplier of armed forces hardware to India. This relation was enjoyed throughout the three decades from 1960-1990. It is a legacy of the cold war. Russia is undeniably still India's major backup force in the United Nations, and by far guided by common interest in the stability of the region. It has also lately helped India acquire its first foreign military base in Tajikistan. But then, that seems to be all.

Russia is not happy with India contracting Israel for the spares of Russian made MIG-21s. Also the planned marketing attempts of the world's first supersonic cruise missile, BRAH-MOS, jointly made by the two countries, have drawn a squint from the northern brothers. Lastly the recent cosyness between Washington and New Delhi is also looked at with an eye of scepticism by Moscow, as they fear it will let the US sniff at Sukhoi weapons that they had given India.

The Indian side on the other hand is not too convinced with these arguments. Their story is that Russia is taking advantage of the recent metamorphosis of itself in to a world power again, with the weakening of the dollar as compared to the steady growth of the rouble adding to its arrogance.

Another important aspect is that Russia recently is having an offer to help massive military build ups by countries other than India; China being the latest suitor. Most of the Russian navy hardware is now strengthening up China. The delay in the supply of T-90 tanks also added to the thaw. Also the two countries didn't see eye to eye in the over Iran, with many commentators thinking that India's open support for the United States, as a back stabbing of its erstwhile ally and regional neighbour.

But that politics comes up with strange bedfellows has never been proved so true as recently. We will be living in a fool's paradise, if somebody still thinks that the golden days of the Non-Aligned Movement, in which India played such an important role, are not lost.

In the changed geo-political situation, there are no good or bad rules guiding the foreign policy of the sub-continent giant with its population of a billion people. Now the choices are not between communist East and capitalist West but more between what is profitable and what is not.

Unfortunately, the Indian "bright boys" from premier technology institutions salivate at the option of moving abroad, as part of our brain drain. So we still have look to a country like Russia for military hardware because we are unable to produce it at home. For me, that is the saddest part of the tale.