India puts Russia ahead of U.S. for arms imports

By MARTIN SIEFF   |   Oct. 8, 2008 at 11:24 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. President George W. Bush will leave office in January seeing India's famous special relationship with a global thermonuclear power stronger than ever. The only trouble is, India's ever-closer alliance is not with the United States, but with Russia.

This basic fact of global and Asian geopolitical life is widely and openly reported in the Russian and Indian press, yet somehow it never filters through to the American media. Yet the pattern of arms deals over the last year of Bush's administration leaves no room for conjecture on that score.

U.S. companies, led by Boeing, tried to make major inroads into the Indian air force's hungry demand for hundreds of air superiority fighters. They didn't even get a look-in. India has committed itself to more deals to buy cheap and excellent Sukhoi combat aircraft for its air force.

The refurbishing of the old Soviet-era Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov is years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. Yet the Kremlin announced in September it had won India's agreement to restructure the deal so that it could still deliver the Gorshkov years behind schedule in 2012. And the carrier will not be equipped with excellent U.S. F-18 fighters but with certainly formidable Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K Fulcrum-Ds.

Indeed, RIA Novosti reported Sept. 24 that negotiations were scheduled to commence soon selling extra MiG-29Ks, according to the president of Russia's giant United Aircraft Corp.

RIA Novosti noted that Russia and India initially agreed in January 2004 on New Delhi's purchase of 12 single-seat MiG-29K and four two-seat MiG-29KUB to be handed over by 2009 for operational use on the Admiral Gorshkov with the prospect of India buying another 30 of them by 2015.

"The negotiations on the Admiral Gorshkov delivery will end sooner or later, and we hope in the near future to start talks on additional delivery of MiG-29K fighters to India," UAC chief Alexey Fyodorov stated, according to the report.

What is striking is that Indian political and military leaders are prepared to hold their breath and wait out even further unscheduled delays in receiving the Gorshkov. The same RIA Novosti report actually cited the head of Russia's state technology corporation, Sergei Chemezov, as warning the carrier would be delivered on its revised and extended schedule.

"The evaluation of additional work on Admiral Gorshkov modernization has not been done yet, and it is too early to hold talks on the completion," he was quoted as stating.

RIA Novosti noted that the final bill for the long refit of the carrier will be almost double the original price Russia's Sevmash shipyard promised: $2.7 billion instead of the original $1.5 billion. India is still trying to get that price tag reduced.

The real story behind the long, complicated and often remarkably bitter bickering over the Gorshkov is that, despite all the Russians' delays and increased charges, India is remaining loyal to its old ally in the purchase of the carrier and the aircraft to be deployed on it.

The same pattern can be found in India's purchases over the past year of more than 300 T-90S Main Battle Tanks from Russia and its willingness to massively expand joint production of different marks of the BrahMos Russian-Indian supersonic cruise missile.

India is only willing to engage with the United States to a limited degree, to get as much U.S. advanced technology as possible. But the nation's fundamental strategic loyalty and its main source of arms imports remain Russia -- and that is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

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