Why India will never drift away from Russia

21th September 2015

21th September 2015

How Russia-Pakistan military deal was a fake news

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov’s recent statement has caused alarm in India, forcing the Russian Embassy in New Delhi to issue a clear-cut statement reiterating that Moscow will never take any step ‘detrimental’ to the security and safety of its privileged strategic partner India, writes Vinay Shukla for Russia Insider.

A spectre is haunting Indian minds — the spectre of a Russia-China-Pakistan ‘Axis’ directed against India’s security and vital interests. At least judging by local media comments and academic discourse one gets this impression. 

The Russia-China-Pakistan axis bogey is generally raised in the Indian media by a powerful pro-American lobby, which is prodding the (Narendra) Modi government to jump on the US bandwagon in containing China and stop buying arms from Russia.

We get media reports daily about ‘cash-strapped’ Russia selling this or that lethal weapon to Pakistan, but so far only the report of selling 4-5 Mi-35M assault helicopters for anti-terror operations has been officially confirmed.

During their recent Russia visits Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif evinced their interest in acquiring cutting-edge Russian weapons. There have been reports of Pakistan taking interest in buying Sukhoi Su-35 multirole state-of-the-art fighters, which has raised the blood pressure of many strategic pundits in New Delhi.

In this context I recall former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s book “Years in Big Politics” (original Russian title: Gody v Bolshoi Politike) published in 1999. Since the Soviet collapse Academician Primakov was chief of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) till his appointment as Foreign Minister in January 1996 by President Boris Yeltsin.

He writes that in early 1990s Pakistan had requested for Sukhoi Su-27 fighters from Russia, which were the best warplane at that time. According to Primakov, the Russian Foreign Ministry (then headed by Andrei Kozyrev) had cleared the deal. However, the Kremlin referred it to SVR.

“We asked the Pakistani side, do they have funds to buy the planes? They replied, yes, they have agreement with Saudi Arabia. We cross-checked through our channels and found it was not true. SVR established that it was a grand foreign plot to scuttle Russia’s military-technical cooperation with India,” former Russian Prime Minister Primakov wrote in his book.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov’s recent statement on the sidelines of Arms Expo in Nizhny Tagil has caused alarm in India, forcing the Russian Embassy in New Delhi to issue a clear-cut statement reiterating that Moscow will never take any step ‘detrimental’ to the security and safety of its privileged strategic partner India. It described the furore in Indian media over the agency report as ‘over reaction’.

So, what is the reality? My over three decades of experience of covering Russia has taught me never to depend on translation of the original Russian text, as the Russian language is so rich that one and the same word may have many meanings, depending on the context. So, I naturally went to the original agency copy in English, which caused euphoria in the Pakistani web community and despair in India.

Mr. Ryabkov called Pakistan as Russia’s ‘nearest neighbour’ (geographically) and a partner looking for developing relations in not only in defence, but also in many spheres including energy. But the English translation of the same news story described Pakistan as Russia’s ‘closest partner’ in South Asia, which de facto questions the privileged strategic partnership with India.

However, factually it is just not true, but explains the ‘over reaction’ of the Indian media. Perhaps, that’s why the Russian Embassy in New Delhi was forced to issue an unprecedented denial, reiterating Moscow’s commitment to the Strategic Partnership Declaration of 2000, where both Russia and India have taken obligations not to indulge into activities ‘detrimental’ to the security of other party.

The Russia-Pakistan bogey was first raised after Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s November 2014 Islamabad visit, when the two countries signed a defence cooperation agreement. To be frank, such agreements are a common thing in the diplomatic practice of the nations formally not at war. So what? India also holds joint war games with the Chinese military. 

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