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Soviet alibi for Russia reactor

New Delhi, Nov. 8: A 1989 Soviet-era agreement, signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev in the last days of the Cold War, will help Russia sell four nuclear reactors to India despite being a Nuclear Suppliers Group member.

So, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Moscow early next week for a summit meeting that will last some 24 hours, an inter-governmental agreement on the sale of four additional reactors for Kudankulam will be signed under the 1989 pact on nuclear cooperation.

As a key member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Russia cannot violate NSG strictures by selling nuclear and missile equipment to a country that has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), such as India.

However, since Russia only joined the NSG after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1992, Moscow has decided it can side-step current NSG strictures by simply arguing that the 1989 pact predated its membership of the grouping.

The scheduled summit in Moscow on November 12, between Manmohan Singh and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is already showing signs of renewed multi-polar rivalry.

With the Indo-US nuclear deal looking like it could be indefinitely delayed, Moscow has decided to enhance its efforts to gain influence in India. Putin’s decision to sell the four nuclear reactors to India, in the face of international wrath, is a key move in this direction.

But analysts also said it would be wrong to interpret the Russian offer in Cold War terms. They said Putin would be careful not to upset key western powers too much since he is keenly aware that the Russian economy is intimately tied to the West.

So, in the coming days, Russia will vehemently argue that it upholds NSG values as much as any other country and that the four-reactor sale to India does not violate the grouping’s rules.

However, since timing is everything in international affairs, the Russians have also calculated that nuclear cooperation with India could soften Delhi’s anger on the delays on the arms spares front, as well as ease the way for the purchase of new military equipment.

Moscow is aware that India’s decision to buy 126 fighter aircraft worth about $7 billion (Rs 2,751 crore), for which the Russians, the Americans, the Swedes and the French have bid, will also have a political element.

So, the Prime Minister will have a full day in Moscow on November 12 with back-to-back meetings with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, a tête-à-tête with Putin, delegation-level talks, a joint news conference and a late banquet lunch. This will be followed by an interaction with the Russian business community.

Aircraft venture

The cabinet committee on security today cleared a joint venture between India and Russia to produce transport aircraft for special forces and cargo-lift, reports our special correspondent quoting a defence ministry source.

An inter-government agreement on the multi-role transport aircraft (MRTA) is likely to be signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit next week.

The project could cost as much as Rs 2,700 crore to be shared equally by the two countries. It is likely to be executed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Irkut Aviation Company.

The proposal was mooted in 2000 but differences over design, capabilities, firm orders and carrying capacity were yet to be resolved. Last month, defence minister A.K. Antony and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdukov presided over the signing of a joint venture for a fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

The MRTA for the special forces, likely to be called the IL-214, would be capable of ferrying 82 paratroopers. A civilian transport version would also be developed. It is designed to replace the Indian Air Force’s workhorse AN-32 over the next 15 years.

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