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Pak cloud on Russia talks

New Delhi, Oct. 10: Russian and Indian military leaders met today for an annual event that marks a unique partnership, but for the first time the ghost of Pakistan peeked through the long table across which the two delegations worked out sweetheart deals.

The “P” factor in India-Russia relations has begun playing out just as New Delhi is voicing its dissatisfaction with delays in the delivery of military equipment and spares.

Moscow is also looking at Islamabad to prepare for both — America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and to force India’s hand.

Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was originally scheduled to visit New Delhi on October 4, led his delegation here at the 12th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical Co-operation.

Serdyukov said he had deferred his programme “because of certain activities of President Vladimir Putin and the presidential review of the new transport aircraft IL476”.

Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was on a four-day visit to Moscow from October 3.

Asked if Russia was revising its policy of not supplying arms to Pakistan, Serdyukov said: “We have not had any changes in our legislation whatsoever.”

India staunchly opposes arms exports to Pakistan and one reason it has relied on Russian military hardware for decades is that Moscow has stood by its commitment.

Russia has been India’s largest supplier of military hardware since the 1970s. Nearly 70 per cent of India’s military arsenal is made up of Russian or erstwhile Soviet-era equipment. With more contracts in the pipeline, Russia is likely to remain the dominant arms supplier to India for another 15 years. But India is increasingly diversifying its sources for weapons.

Now, however, there is a steady building-up of voices in favour of a “re-set” in Russia-Pakistan relations.

“India remains Moscow’s most important partner in the area of MTC (military technical co-operation), both in terms of volume and potential. Yet, Delhi’s attempts to diversify its supplies of new weapons — increasingly from western countries — are making Russia flinch. Moscow has explained to Delhi, in no uncertain terms, that it can also diversify its military-technical ties by means of a rapprochement with Pakistan,” Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told the Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Defence minister A.K. Antony today emphasised to his Russian counterpart that delays in deliveries of equipment should be given top priority. Serdyukov confirmed that the delivery of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov would be delayed by another year.

“We have conducted large-scale trials in the White and Barents seas. We have covered 1,100 nautical miles and hundreds of take-offs and landings by fighter jets and helicopters (from the deck of the carrier) and we have done a lot of collaborative work with Indians. But we have now encountered a big malfunction that has to do with the main power plant and the boiler. So the ship is back in the Sevmash shipyard and we believe it can now be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2013,” Serdyukov explained.

Despite the delay and the over-reliance on Russian military hardware, the two delegations also completed the spadework for the Indian Air Force to acquire an additional 59 Mi-17 V-5 helicopters and 42 Sukhoi 30 Mki fighter jets.

The deals are likely to be signed during a scheduled visit by President Putin in December.