domingo, 17 de fevereiro de 2008

Admiral Gorshkov: The Real Test of Partnership

Admiral Gorshkov: The Real Test of Partnership

Aurobinda MAHAPATRA (India)

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov made a two-day official visit to India from 12 February 2008. The main purpose of the visit was to inaugurate Russian Year in India, besides presiding over the second joint forum for trade and investment. The visit acquired significance due to the recent differences over the air craft career Admiral Gorshkov and nuclear cooperation in the overall ambit of bilateral economic and defence ties. It is the defence cooperation that was/is the crowning glory of bilateral relations; hence any dithering in its pace would likely dampen relations. However, despite long drawn debates and discussions about the defence ties the recent developments indicate that both the countries, taking into account the changing imperatives of the world order, would muster enough political acumen to give final shape to the Gorshkov deal. In this context, it may not be an exaggeration to consider the Gorshkov controversy as a real test of partnership between India and Russia.

Admiral Gorshkov is a Soviet era aircraft career built in Ukraine in 1980s and decommissioned after the collapse of the Soviet Union ostensibly due to its expensive maintenance cost. The negotiation between India and Russia regarding the career started in 1997 but concluded in January 2004 in New Delhi at the presence of defence ministers of both the countries at a cost of $1.5 billion. The career a was necessity for the Indian navy, as its only aging aircraft career INS Viraat was going to be decommissioned in 2008. The Gorshkov was supposed to be delivered in the same year in order to fill the critical gap in the Indian navy.

It would be worthwhile in this context to narrate Indo-Russian defence relations briefly. The relations dated back to the heydays of the cold war when the economic and defence capability of India, surrounded by hostile powers, was at a poor shape. The then Soviet assistance was timely. Its willingness to come closer as reflected in the friendship treaty of 1971 was noteworthy. Whether it was the establishment of heavy industries or the issue of securing national sovereignty and integrity, the Soviet assistance was phenomenal. In fact, India’s army would be unimaginable without the Soviet/Russian weapons. The post-cold war, except the initial hiccups, has almost retained the same spirit in bilateral relations including the defence ones. In can be mentioned defence is the only sector that has flourished well in post-cold war environment characterised by, among other things, competitive arms markets.

Despite the growth trajectory in arms relations the recent controversy about the Gorshkov deal has raised hackles, thus putting strains on the sustainability of bilateral defence ties. Russia announced in November 2007 that the aircraft career would require a further $1.2 billion (almost double the cost agreed on in 2004) for its delivery in 2012, instead of 2008. The sceptics in bilateral relations preferred to call it a day. However, it appears naive to proclaim doom to defence ties without examining the emerging issues. In fact, the deal was signed hastily without studying the details. As one Indian defence official admitted, ‘the original contract was sketchy.’ For instance, the recabling of the carrier at the time of signing of the agreement was estimated to be that of 700 km, but later it discovered to be about 2400 km. Similarly, the ship requires more sea trials than envisaged earlier. There are other technical issues such as converting the ship surface into flattop were earlier under evaluated.

Reportedly, India has already paid $700 million for refitting work at the Sevmash shipyard in northern Russia. It would be difficult to abrogate the deal at this stage. In the difficult terrain of international politics which is currently assuming murkier shape and witnessing the ghosts of the cold war stalking in different parts of the world, it would be but prudent to further strengthen bilateral relations instead of weakening it. Obviously, such a redesigning and restructuring of relations necessitate political acumen and courage which can foster mutually agreed compromise, addressing national interests of both the countries. The best course in the case of the aircraft carrier, hence, is to renegotiate the deal to the satisfaction of both the parties. As per a report, Russia has taken steps in persecuting the officials of the Sevmash for the gaffe. India too has agreed to pay about half of the hiked cost. It is expected that the visit of high level Indian defence team, led by the Defence Secretary, to Russia on 19 February 2008 would give final and conclusive shape to the deal.

In a sense, it is good that the Admiral Gorshkov controversy cropped up. It might serve a forewarning for things to be tackled in advance while negotiating deals in future. Indo-Russian defence cooperation is remarkable and no two countries share such close defence ties which extend to joint research, design and production of weapons. The emerging imperatives of the 21st century necessitate cementing of strategic cooperation, governed by mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse areas. In this context, controversy involving Admiral Gorshkov can be considered a real test of partnership, which both the countries with the record of friendship and cooperation must pass without entangling themselves in short-term calculations.

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