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Mutually Beneficial

Indo-Soviet defence co-operation should take into consideration the changed world order and adjust accordingly

Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman (retd) Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman (retd)

It was the month of July 1999. Kargil War was in its bitterest fighting phase. Artillery ammunition was being used extensively to dislodge Pakistani intruders from the hill tops. As the stocks were running low, a need was felt to import additional ammunition on emergent basis. Some other defence items were also required urgently for sustained operations. A comprehensive list was prepared and sent to the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin under a personal letter from the Indian Prime Minister A B Vajpayee.

As the end of the war was nowhere in sight, a delegation was sent to Moscow to arrange immediate import of the listed items. Being unsure of the likely Russian response, the delegation prepared itself for elaborate deliberations to impress upon the Russians to agree to immediate deliveries.

However, the delegation was in for a surprise. At the very first meeting, the Russian officials announced that they had been ordered not to refuse any item; and that, the items not held in regular stocks were to be given from the Russian war reserves. With that, the Russian delegation laid down their complete inventory details on the table, asking the Indian delegation to identify the items they wanted. It was a gesture of monumental proportions. No country depletes its own war reserves to help another country.

Historical Linkages
Visit of Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to India in December 1955 marked the beginning of a historical chapter in Indo-Soviet relations and laid the foundation stone of a lasting friendship that has served the interests of both the nations well. Soon, defence cooperation became the cornerstone of the deepening relationship. It started with the visit of Soviet defence minister Marshall Zhukov to India in January 1957. He offered a large array of Soviet arms.

In early November 1960, the two countries signed the first arms agreement, paving the way for the sale of An-12 & IL-14 transport planes and Mi-4 helicopters to India. In July 1962, another agreement was signed for the delivery of 19 MiG-21 fighters as well as Soviet financial and technical assistance to set up factories in India for the manufacture of MiG-2l and guided missiles. In September 1964, the Soviet Union agreed to sell four squadrons of MIG-2l aircraft, helicopters, light tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons on credit.

A Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed between the two nations on 9 August 1971. It bound both the countries to extend each other all out support in the event of an outside aggression. In May 1980, Moscow signed a new arms agreement with India providing for the transfer and licensed production of MiG-23 fighters and T-72 main battle tanks. It was financed by a long-term loan at 2.5 per cent interest.

T-90 tanks during Republic Day parade
T-90 tanks during Republic Day parade

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