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Antony talks tough to old friends
-Transparency must, says minister

Moscow, Oct. 17: Defence minister A.K. Antony’s mission here to assuage old friends has not made him mince words on the Indian armed forces’ very real concerns on Russian supplies.

The minister told his counterpart, Anatoly Eduardovich Serdyukov, and his delegation at the opening of the talks that a transparency commitment was a must for future cooperation.

He said there were three issues that “call for attention” despite new programmes being built on the edifice of past relations.

First, Russia’s military industrial complex must be able to guarantee lifecycle support. This is borne out of worries, chiefly in the Indian Air Force, about tardy supplies of spares for Russian-origin aircraft.

Second, the sub-groups under the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation need to work on delays in retro-fitting and delivery of the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov. The vessel was contracted in 2005 but the Russian shipyard where it was being worked upon has run into a cash crunch.

Third, India asked for the economic viability of “certain products” that were being negotiated or have been contracted.

Antony did not specify the equipment in this category. But it is known that joint development projects such as the Brahmos missile cannot be lucrative enough unless both countries place orders in sufficient numbers and find friendly third country markets to export them to.

A fourth point Antony emphasised in some detail was the need to sign integrity pacts for future and some ongoing projects. The pact — also called a “no-bribery clause” — has to be inserted into all defence contracts in keeping with the latest procurement policy.

“You may be aware that it is the constant endeavour of my government to achieve a greater amount of transparency, including in defence matters,” he said.

“There are elaborate guidelines to be followed in defence procurements. The integrity pact is an essential contractual requirement. We are bound by these procedures.”

Lending a sympathetic approach, he said he appreciated that Russia, too, had its own rules and procedures.

Much of the anxiety over transparency is borne out of the Indian military establishment’s increasing exchanges with western counterparts.

Compared with the Russian system, which still has an overhang of Soviet ways in its military industrial complex, American and western defence procedures are more visible and easily understood.

Antony’s hard talk does not necessarily imply disenchantment with the Russians. India would have more issues with the Russians than with western countries because nearly 70 per cent of its military hardware is sourced from here.

Current defence contracts with Russia that will be valid for nearly a decade and a half total more than $14.5 billion.

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