Ties with US not at cost of Russia: Antony

By Vishnu Makhijani, IANS

Pokhran (Rajasthan) : Defence Minister A.K. Antony stoutly defended India’s long-standing military ties with Russia, saying the growing warmth with the US would not impact on “old friends”.

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“Nobody should feel that our growing ties with other countries are at the cost of old friends,” the minister told reporters at this firing range on the sidelines of a firepower demonstration staged by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

His comment came in response to a specific question on whether the Russian demand for virtually doubling the price of an aircraft carrier the Indian Navy has purchased would sour ties between the two countries.

“Our relations with Russia are not one-contract or one-issue specific. Our relations have stood the test of time for 60 years. If problems arise, we will sort them out,” Antony maintained.

“Previously, our relations with the US were not good. Now they are improving. We are also improving our relations with other countries like Israel, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia. But, nobody should feel this is at the cost of our old friends,” he added.

The Indian Navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, had created a storm earlier this week by pointedly stating that India should not renegotiate the price of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) that India has purchased for $1.5 billion and for which Russia has now demanded another $1.2 billion.

Making a case for diversifying the sources of India’s military purchases, Mehta, while addressing a press conference in New Delhi Monday, had said the country should not “not put all its eggs in one basket”.

While the general view was that Mehta had spoken out of turn, many in the defence establishment lauded the navy chief for being outspoken, pointing to cost escalations, delays and poor quality of Russian military hardware.

There were even reports that Antony had summoned Mehta and chided him, and his statement Saturday made it amply clear what the government’s thinking on the issue was.

Addressing the Vikramaditya cost escalation issue, the minister said: “Some discussions are going on. After that, we will place it before the highest body, the concerned cabinet committee. A final decision will be taken after negotiations are over.”

Responding to questions on other issues, he said another test would soon be conducted of the Akash anti-aircraft missile Indian defence scientists are developing as part of the country’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP).

Asked when the second part of an expert group’s recommendations on accelerated promotions for officers of the rank of brigadier and above and in their equivalents in the armed forces would be implemented, Antony said the onus for this lay with the three service chiefs.

“Once we get the recommendations of the three service chiefs,” we will take it up,” he said.

The three chiefs have been speaking in different voices on the report of the Ajai Vikram Singh committee, the first part of which on accelerated promotions for officers up to the rank of colonel has already been implemented.