|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
The recent meet between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the BRICS summit at Goa and the deals signed between India and Russia have silenced the critics that the Modi Government is putting all its eggs in the basket of America. It also takes out the gas from the hype in Pakistani media that Russia has moved away from India and is now closer friend of Pakistan, a Russian-Pakistani defence pact is in the offing and a China-Russia-Pakistan axis is becoming a reality.
Modi had wide ranging talks with Putin covering the entire gamut of bilateral engagement. Some 16 agreements were signed between the two countries that included: deal worth $5 billion plus for S-400 Triumpf air defence systems from Russia, which was being discussed between the two countries for over a year; establishment of $1 billion Russian Indian Investment Fund that would include $500 million push into infrastructure in India and space along with an equal investment by the newly formed National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF); joint venture to build at least 200 Kamov helicopters in India; joint agreement on shipbuilding and specialist training in Andhra Pradesh: dedicating Unit 2 of Kudankulam nuclear power plant and foundation laying of Units 3 and 4; agreement on ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on terrorism; setting up of Science and Technology Commission; deal for four Admiral Grigorovich class (Project 11356) guided missile stealth frigates; MoU to develop transport logistic system; MoU on education and training; MoU on urban development and smart city projects; MoU on cooperation between Indian and Russian railways; successful execution of documents between Rosneft and Essar for oil; agreement to study feasibility of a gas pipeline between Russia and India, and; space cooperation between Russian Space Corporation and ISRO.
Speaking to the media in presence of Putin, Modi made the following points: appreciation of Russia’s clear stand on the need to combat terrorism in line with that of India; appreciation of Russia’s understanding and support for India action to fight cross-border terrorism that threatens the region; India and Russia have similarity of views on the situation in Afghanistan and West Asia; both countries continue to expand, diversify and deepen economic engagement and with President Putin’s backing India hopes for engagement with the Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement; success of the Indo-Russian bilateral summit indicates abiding strength of the partnership and convergence of views on positions on pressing international and regional issues; and, India-Russia close collaboration in responding to challenges posed by unsettled nature of global economic and financial markets, as well as collaboration at the UN, BRICS, East Asia Summit, G-20 and SCO makes the partnership truly global. On the issue of terrorism, President Putin said that both India and Russia have close cooperation in fighting terrorism.
The S-400 will be a game changer in the subcontinent since it can take on aircraft and even drones at a range of 400 km. The power of the system can be gauged from the fact that after Russia deployed this weapon system in Syria, sorties over Syria by western nations have been reportedly reduced. S-400 can fire three different types of missiles, varying in range from 120 to 400 km flying at supersonic and hypersonic speeds. Russia claims the S-400 can even radar lock and shoot down stealth fighters like the F-35. Pakistan’s frontline fighters are only the F-16s. China is developing two new stealth fighters based on stolen US technology but it will be few years before these are fielded. However, China too is procuring the S-400 from Russia with first deliveries slated in 2017.
Though development of the fifthgeneration fighter aircraft (FGFA) was not on the agenda this time, India and Russia have earlier signed a preliminary design contract and are now looking to sign a $8-billion research and development contract. The Kamov helicopters will be deployed for surveillance, carriage of troops and small loads as well as for rescue, including at forbidding heights like the Saltoro range in Siachen Glacier region. Russia had recently undertaken a joint exercise with Pakistan in Pakistan. India had reservations on this given Pakistan’s state policy of terror. These reservations were conveyed to Russia by India albeit there was no need for our media to hype the issue.
Russia does have a zero tolerance policy towards terrorism. More importantly, Russia is aware of Pakistani designs to further her strategic depth in Afghanistan through terror and go beyond into Central Asia similarly. Should the situation develop to that extent, it would be not beyond Putin to fire cruise missiles in terrorist bases in Pakistan, akin to what he did in Syria.