Antony promises major breakthrough in India-Russia military pact

By Vishnu Makhijani, IANS

Moscow : Promising a “major breakthrough” on a big-ticket India-Russia military pact, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Wednesday that this would herald a new era in ties between the two countries.

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“I am sure there will be a major breakthrough. This will further enhance our ties and open up more areas for working together,” Antony told reporters after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Alexandrovsky Garden ahead of his meetings with Russian officials.

Antony, who arrived here Tuesday on a four-day visit, and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov will also co-chair the seventh meeting of the bilateral inter-governmental commission on military technical cooperation later Wednesday.

The breakthrough Antony was referring to relates to the joint development and production of a fifth generation combat jet for the Indian and Russian air forces.

“The discussions on the fifth generation fighter are progressing well,” the minister said.

While India has for long shown interest in the Sukhoi design bureau’s PAK-FA project, what remains to be resolved is India’s share in the $8 billion project.

“The costing will be worked out after we figure out how much the Russians have already spent on the project and what our share will be,” an official explained.

Antony also expressed satisfaction over his informal discussions with Russian officials after his arrival here Tuesday and of the deliberations of various working groups ahead of the commission meeting.

“We have been able to arrive at satisfactory solutions on various issues. The working groups have completed their discussions and we are very happy with the conclusions,” the minister said.

“I am sure my visit will further enhance India-Russia (military) ties and open up new areas for working together” ahead of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit here next month for the annual summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Singh will be visiting Moscow Nov 11-12.

“That will also be a landmark visit,” Antony maintained.

The minister replied in the negative when asked whether the Russian government had expressed apprehension over the growing closeness between India and the US.

“They (Russia) are very happy about our growing relations with other countries because they know that this is not at the cost of our traditional and time-tested friendship with Russia,” he said.

While this is Antony’s second visit abroad after becoming defence minister last October, it is only his second visit here, having last travelled here 36 years ago.

“I’m much better protected this time,” he quipped on the warm trousers, greatcoat, muffler and furry hat he was wearing.

“The last time, I was in my ‘mundu’ (sarong) and shirt and it was very cold,” he added.