Between words, pauses and meaningful silences
Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
Moscow: Russians officials do not accept that relations between India and Russia have hit a low. But they do concede that ties are lower than what the expected privileged strategic partnership that political leaders of both sides swear by would entail. Their nuanced approach appears compatible with the equally nuanced burden of setbacks that the relationship has undergone. While there are many reasons for the slow downslide, two top concerns are: growing ties between Russia and Pakistan; and India’s seeming gravitation towards the United States’ strategic and regional security orbit, leading to arms sales for interoperability in the Indo-Pacific region across the two Oceans (Indian and the Western Pacific).
Against this backdrop, when asked how military-technical cooperation between Russia and Pakistan would affect the long-established similar cooperation between Russia and India, the reply from a top Russian policymaker was unusual and loaded with unexpressed sentiments. The director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), Dmitry Shugaev told FORCE, “Russia has military technical cooperation with 107 nations across the globe. Russia has strategic and technology cooperation with India and China. It has Intellectual Property sharing with both of them. Still, there is no threat from them to Russia, or challenge to Russia-India relations.”
He further said, “Russia’s military-technical cooperation with Pakistan will not be at the cost of its relations with India since India will get priority”. Then for good effect, he added, “We currently have orders worth USD four billion from India, besides commercial projects (through Rosoboronexport – Russian single window for international arms sales) worth more than USD 10 billion in the pipeline waiting for a response from the Indian government.” Topping the list is the S-400 Air Defence Missile System (ADMS).
Before putting what Shugaev said into perspective, it would be instructive to understand who he is, since the FSMTC, an organisation unique to Russia, is not well known outside the concerned circles in India. Working directly under the President’s office, Shugaev is responsible for control and supervision of military-technical cooperation with foreign countries. In this position, he understands Kremlin’s geopolitical moorings and sits above the Russian defence and industrial ministries and the strategic (nuclear) command. He gets direct instructions from the Kremlin. Since all military-technical cooperation is a single-window affair in Russia, it is reasonable to assume that Shugaev, who was appointed in 2017, has direct access to the Russian President.
Despite Shugaev’s assertions to the contrary, the truth is that ties between Russia and Pakistan have warmed a lot since the coming of the Modi government in India. The two nations signed defence cooperation agreement in November 2014, and military-technical cooperation agreement in October 2015. This includes arms sales, cooperation in weapons development, repair and upgrade of military products, and strengthening of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities. Russia assesses Pakistan as a stabilising force in the region straddling South, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
Shugaev was correct in telling FORCE that, “We have signed only Mi-35 helicopters contract (for purported counter-terror operations) with Pakistan.” But, the two sides have been in discussions on a range of military hardware. During the April 2018 visit of Pakistan army chief, General Qamar Bajwa to Moscow, he sought Russian engines for the Chinese made JF-17 aircraft with the Pakistan Air Force. For the last four years, Pakistan has been considering a range of Russian air defence systems from TOR, BUK to Antey-2500; it is keen to buy the T-90 tanks and is seeking information on the Sprut-SDM1 light amphibious and air droppable 125mm gun tank that Russia is offering to India. Moreover, intelligence sharing between Russia and Pakistan has grown gradually since the opening of the Russian consulate in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan.
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