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As US-Russia ties blow hot & cold, Moscow wants same military deal America has with India

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Moscow’s draft comes two years after US signed a similar pact with New Delhi, likely to focus on servicing of equipment.

New Delhi: Taking a cue from the US, Russia has proposed a mutual military logistics support agreement with India. Moscow submitted a draft of its proposal to New Delhi last month, a senior defence ministry official told ThePrint.

The Russian proposal comes almost exactly two years after India and the US signed a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in August 2016. Preliminary reviews of the Russian draft have made the Indian military positively disposed to it.

However, the US’s response to such an arrangement, which further deepens India-Russia military relations, can only be gauged at a later stage.

Last week, the US indicated that it was actively considering a waiver of sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to India. This, despite the country importing weapon systems (those underway and those that are proposed such as the S-400 missile defence project) from Russia.

Only on Tuesday, the US government also said it was raising India’s status as a major defence partner to “STA-1” almost on a par with its NATO allies.

Russian pact could take just months

Given the intense ties that India has with Russia — more than 60 per cent of Indian military equipment is of Russian or (erstwhile) Soviet origin — the signing of the pact could take just months.

In contrast, the LEMOA with the US was nearly a decade-and-a-half in the making.

With Russia, this could be by the time of the next meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC), scheduled for the end of this year or early next year. The IRIGC-MTC meets annually.

Also read: India prevails, US likely to exempt it from sanctions on arms import from Russia

More to do with servicing of equipment

The contours of the Russian proposal are still being studied but it is at once clear that they may be of a different dimension than that of the US.

The US’ military assets and bases are widely dispersed around the globe. So, Indian ships and military aircraft, and even contingents of the Indian Army, were dangled the prospect of simpler access for refuelling, rest and recuperation facilities on a barter basis.

US military units would be granted the same facilities without having to pay for them.

With Russia, the arrangements would have less to do with dispersed deployments and more to do with servicing of equipment.

It is opportune for the Russian proposal that Indian military contingents are currently in its territory for back-to-back drills. This week, contingents of the Indian Army and the Air Force are in Russia for the International Army Games (also dubbed the “Olympics of the militaries”).

And later this month, Indian contingents will participate in the Peace Mission 2018, war-games being held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Russia. The military exercises will see, for the first time, Indian troops alongside those from China and Pakistan.

A balancing act

Meeting President Vladimir Putin at Sochi in Russia in May this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described New Delhi-Moscow ties as a “special privileged strategic partnership”. The two met again last week on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa.

But in the months between the two meetings, the Trump Administration has blown hot-and-cold with Russia and on sanctions against military exports from it. The Pentagon has also “re-designated” the region around India as the “Indo-Pacific”, reflecting a desire to raise New Delhi’s strategic importance.

The latest Russian proposal comes in the middle of this environment.

Also read: In a first, India & Pakistan will be in wargames in China and Russia, troops leave next week

India’s military dependence on Russia — characterised currently by an urgent need for spares and arms for critical platforms such as the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier and the MiG29K fighter jets that embark it — means that Moscow holds the cards.

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