Event ReportsPublished on Dec 21, 2012
Despite efforts, Indo-Russian nuclear engagement has been limited, mainly because of two factors. One, there is an unstable status of legal framework for the transfer of nuclear technology and second, India's efforts to diversify nuclear partners have been a little upsetting for Russia.
Russia not happy with India's efforts to diversify nuclear partners
In the midst of regular debates and deliberations on the future of defence cooperation between India and Russia, Observer Research Foundation organised a ’Dialogue on Indo-Russian Military-Technical Cooperation: The Way Forward’ in New Delhi on December 21, 2012. The Dialogue between the Russian and Indian experts and scholars included three presentations on ’The current state of the Russian Defence Industry’, ’Russia-India arms trade’, and Indo-Russian Nuclear Cooperation’.

The first presentation gave a brief introduction of the current state of the Russian defence industry. It was stated that the last five years have observed a substantial transformation in this sector. There has been a nationalization of private assets, creation of national champions (by merging assets into large national companies like the United Aircraft Corporation) and launch of large defence procurement and defence industry modernisation programmes. A particular effort towards defence modernisation includes the ’State Armament Program 2011-2020’ by which the government is hoping to increase the proportion of modern weaponry in service to 30 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020.

Learning from past experiences in Chechnya and Afghanistan, Russia has realised the need to escalate its air force and naval procurement. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. For instance, the Russian defence industry could improve further if the government would allow private and foreign investment in the defence sector and diversify the defence industry by expanding into the civilian market.

The second presentation explored the impact of the reformed Russian industrial sector on Indo-Russian arms trade. This is important given India, the largest importer of Russian arms since 2007, is witnessing a booming budget at a time when a majority of the foreign budgets have noted a decline. Simultaneously, India’s demand for more expensive and high-tech weaponry has been a source of encouragement for the Russian defence industry to innovate. Long standing and joint projects with India, have also encouraged the Russian defence industry to pursue a long-term business strategy of corporation and move towards the development of a common defence market.

Russia’s importance for India in the defence sector has been no less. Sharing similar military-political interest as India, Russia has not only favoured a stronger India but has also acted as a quasi-monopoly source of sub-strategic technologies to India.

Unfortunately, Indo-Russian defence cooperation has been witnessing certain problems in recent years. Escalating costs of long-term projects and delayed deliveries by Russia has disappointed India.Factors likely to add to these tensions include a conflict between exports and domestic Ministry of Defence contracts as Russia is ramping up its defence procurement programme, problems with after sale services, and a growing Russian lobby looking to expand trade with Pakistan.

Despite these obstacles, Russia remains keen to expand joint projects with India. There is a realisation that imports from India like the BrahMos missiles and components of Su-30Sm fighters need to be stepped up. The discussion concluded with the consensus that Indo-Russian military cooperation has immense scope for improvement and the two countries should not allow differences to upset the fifty year old partnership.

The last presentation focused on Nuclear Cooperation between Russia and India. Highlighting the crucial role played by Russia in this sector, it was pointed out that Russia has helped India in difficult situations when no other country was willing to help. In 1976, USSR supplied heavy water for the nuclear plant in Rajasthan following Canada’s decision to stop cooperation due to the 1974 nuclear test in Pokharan. Again in 2000 Russia supplied nuclear fuel for the nuclear plant in Tarapur after there was successive supply cancelations by USA, France and China.

Even today, Russia is trying to help India develop its nuclear capacity. The controversial issue of Kudankulam was discussed in this context. Defending Russia’s efforts in transferring responsibility to India, the Russian delegates stated a third of Kudankulam’s budget was recognised by the Indian companies, a third of the construction work was localised in India and a third of the equipment was procured from India. Although the Indian experts acknowledged the value of this cooperation, they believed that Russia and India still share a buyer-seller relationship. In order to alleviate these ties to a genuine partnership, Russia would have to cooperate more intensively with India.

Russia’s supply of nuclear fuel to India was also highlighted. In 2009, TVEL of Rosatom, Russia, signed an agreement with the Department of Atomic Energy of India to supply fuels for heavy water reactors of US and Canadian construction. The total amount of this supply would be two thousand metric tons, of which the first supply of 30 tons has already been delivered in 2009.

Despite such ongoing efforts of nuclear cooperation, Indo-Russian nuclear engagement has been limited. There are two primary factors responsible for this. First, there is an unstable status of legal framework for the transfer of nuclear technology to India. Second, India’s efforts to diversify nuclear partners have been a little upsetting for Russia. Nevertheless, the mutually beneficial position of the two countries cannot be undermined. India feels the deficit of energy and Russian is willing to be of assistance.

(This report is prepared by Sadhavi Chauhan, Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)

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