By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Russia and India signed weapons deals worth billions of dollars Monday as President Vladimir Putin sought to further boost ties with an old ally.
Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed cooperation between their countries as officials signed a $1.6 billion deal for 42 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets that will be license-built in India from Russian components and a $1.3 billion contract for the delivery of 71 Mil Mi-17 military helicopters.
Singh said the talks included discussions on the security situation in the region, including Afghanistan.
Russia and India have shared close ties since the Cold War, when Moscow was a key ally and the principal arms supplier to New Delhi.
The ties slackened after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but grew stronger again after Putin came to power in 2000, seeking to revive Moscow’s global clout and restore ties with old allies.
While the volume of Russian-Indian trade has risen sixfold since 2000 and is expected to reach $10 billion this year, the growth has slowed in recent years. And even though India remains the No. 1 customer for Russia’s arms industries, Moscow has recently lost several multibillion-dollar contracts to Western weapons makers.
Russia has maintained its strong positions in the Indian market with $30 billion worth of arms contracts with India signed in 2000-2010 that envisaged supplies of hundreds of fighter jets, missiles, tanks and other weapons, a large part of which were license-produced in India. The countries have cooperated on building an advanced fighter plane and a new transport aircraft, and have jointly developed a supersonic cruise missile for the Indian Navy.
But the military cooperation has hit snags in recent years, as New Delhi shops increasingly for Western weapons. The Indians also haven’t been always happy with the quality of Russian weapons and their rising prices.
In one notable example, in 2004 Russia signed a $1 billion contract to refurbish a Soviet-built aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy. While the deal called for the ship to be commissioned in 2008, it is still in a Russian shipyard and the contract price has reportedly soared to $2.3 billion. The target date for the carrier’s completion was moved back again this year after it suffered major engine problems in sea trials. Russian officials now promise to hand it over to India in the end of 2013.
India has also demanded that Russia pay fines for failing to meet terms under a 2006 contract for building three frigates for its navy, the third of which is yet to be commissioned.
Russia recently has suffered major defeats in competition with Western rivals in the Indian arms market.
Last year, Russia lost a tender to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 new fighter jets worth nearly $11 billion to France’s Dassault Rafale. And last month, Boeing won India’s order for a batch of heavy-lift helicopters worth $1.4 billion.
Russia has sought to downplay recent defeats of its arms traders, saying that other weapons deals with India are under preparation.
As part of its cooperation with India, Russia also has built the first reactor at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant and is building a second unit there. The project has been delayed by protests by anti-nuclear groups and local residents.
The head of the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, told reporters Monday that the reactors in Kudankulam are the safest in the world, adding that studies have shown that they would have withstood a disaster like an earthquake and tsunami that caused multiple meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan last year. Kiriyenko said Rosatom plans to build more reactors in India.
Putin’s visit was scheduled for late October, but was delayed as the Russian leader suspended foreign travel for about two months. The Kremlin acknowledged that he was suffering from a muscle pulled during judo training. Putin resumed active travel earlier this month, making several foreign trips.