The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gorshkov off Atal Russia radar

New Delhi, Oct. 14: A drive to clinch the deal for the Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov, has been de-linked from the Prime Minister’s scheduled visit to Russia next month.

Negotiations that resumed this month have not yet been able to clinch issues of pricing and technology.

Defence minister George Fernandes claimed today that “the negotiations are on the verge of being concluded” but added that “though there are no differences on basic issues, there are some technical points that have arisen”.

India and Russia have been in talks for the 40,000-tonne Gorshkov for close to two decades. Despite agreeing several times “in principle” to the deal, Fernandes would not commit that the contract could be signed by the end of this financial year.

The navy has been repeatedly emphasising the need for at least three aircraft carriers. It now has one, the INS Viraat.

Discussions were held last week with a team from Russia, including representatives of Rosoboronexport, the Russian military equipment trading agency.

The Russians had initially offered the Gorshkov for the price of its refit. With the equipment that India wants on board, the Russians are understood to have asked for a price of around $800 million.

The Indian Navy wants to pare that down to about $650 million without air defence systems and a radar that it would like to import from Italy.

The Russians were also insistent on packaging the deal along with the sale of MiG29 K aircraft that could be based aboard the Gorshkov. The Indian Navy has projected a requirement for not more than 20 MiG29Ks. The entire Gorshkov deal now looks to be in the region of $1.7 billion.

Fernandes said that “though the price negotiations have taken a lot of time, the paperwork is being done and we are close to concluding it”. This echoes the defence ministry’s position for close to five years.

He refused to state a time frame for the deal.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to visit Russia from November 11.

Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov will be in Delhi before the Prime Minister leaves for Moscow.

The ministry of external affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office were understood to have expressed interest in making the Gorshkov the highlight of the visit.

Since the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cleared the Rs 8,000-crore deal to buy advanced jet trainers for the Indian Air Force from British Aerospace last month, expectations that the Gorshkov talks will also be clinched were running high.

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