Russian army chief’s visit to boost military ties


New Delhi : Russian army chief Gen. Alexei Fedorovich Maslov arrived here Monday on a five-day visit that is being seen as an attempt to restore his country's position as the pre-eminent supplier of military hardware to India.

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The visit, being undertaken after a gap of almost eight years, "assumes special significance in the light of enhanced defence cooperation between the two countries", a defence ministry statement said.

Some 70 percent of the hardware of the armed forces has been sourced from the erstwhile Soviet Union or Russia, but in the past decade India has been attempting to cast the net wider and has entered into deals with US, Israeli, and British suppliers.

Of late, however, the Russians have been aggressively marketing their products as evidenced by repeat orders for the frontline Sukhoi SU-30MKI combat jets, medium-lift Mi-17 helicopters and the T-90 main battle tank that are in the pipeline.

While no deals are expected to be finalised during Maslov's visit, he is expected to push for these, an official said on condition of anonymity.

Maslov holds the five-star rank of General of the Army and is designated Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Land Forces. His wife and a delegation of two officers are accompanying him on the India visit.

On his arrival here, Maslov laid a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti martyrs memorial at India Gate and was then accorded a guard of honour at the Army Headquarters at South Block.

He thereafter held discussions with Indian Army chief Gen. J.J. Singh, during which he was briefed on India's security perspective.

Maslov also visited the BrahMos organisation here, an India-Russia joint venture that is developing a cutting edge technology supersonic cruise missile. The weapon system has been deployed with the Indian Army and its naval and air force versions are currently under development.

During the visit, Maslov will meet the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the Indian Air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Homi Major, Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and other dignitaries.

He will also visit important institutions of the Indian armed forces.

Maslov's visit "would give an impetus to the existing defence cooperation and also aim to further diversify army-to-army cooperation in the field of training and exchange of experts in the field of mutual interests", the defence ministry statement said.

The Indian and Russian armies conducted their first-ever joint airborne exercise in India. The next such drill is planned to be conducted in Russia later this year.

Notwithstanding India's Look West policy for arms purchases, India-Russia bilateral relations "are historical, multifaceted and based on mutual trust and confidence", the statement noted.

"Russia has been the major defence equipment supplier to Indian armed forces. The ongoing defence cooperation encompasses equipment procurement, exchange of delegations, conduct of joint exercises, and joint designing, development and marketing of military equipment," it added.

Maslov was born in 1953 in the Kursk region of what was then the Soviet Union. After graduating from the Military Academy of the Armed Forces, he has held various appointments, including command of a division in the Volga-Urals military district.

After graduating from the General Staff Military Academy, he served as commander of the Baikal military district and chief of staff and first deputy commander of the North Caucasus military district.

Maslov assumed his present appointment in Nov 2004.