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India closely watching Russian move to sell attack helicopters to Pakistan

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India is closely tracking Russia’s move to directly supply Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan by lifting an informal arms embargo. But officials here also say that Russian arms have in any case been surreptitiously finding their way to Pakistan through China for years now.

“Yes, there is some concern here. But then, other countries like the US and France also sell their weaponry to both sides of the line of control. If the French sell Agosta-90B submarines to Pakistan, they sell the Scorpene submarines to us,” said a senior defence official.

This comes in the backdrop of Russian Rostec corporation chief Sergei Chemezov declaring in Moscow on Monday that his country had lifted the arms embargo on Pakistan.

“We are negotiating the sales of Mi-35 helicopters to the country (Pakistan),” he said.

Russian ambassador to India, Alexander M Kadakin, on Wednesday however stressed his country would never do anything that would prove “detrimental” to the “deep and strategic” partnership with India.

While holding that there was never any formal arms embargo on Pakistan, he said talks on the supply of the Mi-35s were only at an “initial” stage at present.

Whatever be the case, say Indian officials, Pakistan has been getting Russian equipment ranging from aero-engines for its JF-17 fighters being produced with China to thinly-disguised Chinese variants of Russian radars, guns and the like.

Russia, of course, is piqued by India’s conscious effort to increasingly turn to other countries like US, Israel and France for its military requirements since the 1999 Kargil conflict.

Russia has been India’s largest defence supplier, with military sales worth over $40 billion since the first MiG-21s in 1963 to the present-day Sukhoi-30MKI fighters.

But the US alone has bagged Indian defence deals close to $10 billion over the last decade. India, in fact, has also selected American AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy-lift choppers over their Russian rivals, Mi-28 Havocs and Mi-26s, in recent times.

The two contracts for 22 Apache and 15 Chinooks, together worth over $2.4 billion, are however yet to be inked.

India has been upset with Russia’s propensity to not stick to delivery schedules, jack up costs mid-way through execution of contracts, create hurdles in transfer of technology and be unreliable about spares.

The long-delayed delivery of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) as well as the huge jump in its refit cost to $2.33 billion is just one of the examples. But Russia will remain India’s major military supplier for the foreseeable future.

Even as IAF progressively inducts the 272 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters ordered for over $12 billion, for instance, India and Russia are also negotiating the final R&D contract to jointly develop the fifth-generation fighter aircraft. If India indeed moves to induct over 200 such “swing-role” stealth fighters, it will spend close to $35 billion over the next two decades on them.

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