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‘Basket’ cloud on Gorshkov deal

New Delhi/Moscow, Jan. 13: Defence minister George Fernandes leaves for Russia tomorrow for what will be the sixth technical visit centred around the acquisition of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov for the Indian Navy.

While the defence minister is convinced about the necessity of the vessel, he is himself circumspect on the possibility of clinching a deal even now.

Negotiations on the berthed 44,000 tonnes Kiev-class aircraft carrier for which the Russians have no use and the Indians have projected a desperate need are deadlocked not only over the price but also over the “basket” of equipment that New Delhi is being asked to buy. Russia has offered the carrier to India for the cost of its refit.

But Russian sources told PTI in Moscow that adjustments had been made to bring down the cost of the carrier, which is now estimated at $1.8 billion. Russia will finance the modernisation of the carrier at its own cost provided India compensates it after delivery. Though Fernandes has practically ruled out signing any major acquisition deal, he will be leading a 19-member delegation.

The team includes defence secretary Subir Datta, department of defence production and supplies secretary N.S. Sisodia, special secretary (acquisitions) Dhirendra Singh, financial advisor R.N. Das, additional secretary Somi Tandon, chief controller (research & development) A.S. Pillai, deputy chief of army staff Lt Gen. A.S. Chaki, deputy chief of air staff Air Marshal Raghu Ranjan and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited chairman N.R. Mohanty.

Fernandes said officials would discuss supplies of spares for the navy and the air force. He said negotiations on the Gorshkov had gone through the technicalities but an agreeable price had not yet been reached.

It is possible that Moscow has linked the sale of the Gorshkov to the sale of nuclear submarines that India needs to implement its policy of a nuclear triad — that is arming the navy, the air force and the army with nuclear capable weapons.

Russian government sources said ensuring the “blue water” capability for the Indian Navy is one of the key components of India-Russia defence cooperation. This includes the acquisition of Admiral Gorshkov, lease of Akula-II class nuclear submarines and Russian assistance in the development of indigenous nuclear powered submarine under Advanced Technology Vessel programme, they added.

At the session of the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation scheduled to begin on January 15, its co-chairmen — Fernandes and Russian industries, science and technology minister Ilya Klebanov — are expected to speed up the decision on Admiral Gorshkov.

Fernandes and Klebanov are expected to review progress in more than 350 India-Russia defence deals, including licensed production of Lada class diesel submarines and AWACs (Airborne Early Warning Systems) under the long-term India-Russia military-technical cooperation programme till 2010.

Fernandes is expected to visit the facilities of NPO Mashnostroyenie — Russia’s premier nuclear missile design and production centre — to see the assembly line of the BrahMos cruise missiles being jointly developed by the two countries.

He would also fly to the Siberian town of Irkutsk to see the production facilities of Irkut Aircraft Corporation involved in the assembly of Su-30MKI multi-role fighters for the air force. Fernandes will return from Moscow via London on January 20.

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