By Ajai ShuklaBusiness Standard, 11th Nov 17
The visit by US navy officials last week to INS Vikramaditya, an aircraft carrier built by Russia for the Indian Navy, has turned into an unexpectedly hot potato in Russia-India military ties.
As Business Standard first reported (October 30, “US Navy aircraft carrier team to check out Russian-built INS Vikramaditya”), a team of American naval officers that was visiting India to discuss US assistance in constructing an indigenous aircraft carrier, was invited on board INS Vikramaditya on October 31.
On Thursday, Russian news portal, Kommersant, sprung a bombshell, reporting that Russia-India military relations were in a crisis, with Moscow furious because the Indian Navy had also permitted the US officials on board INS Chakra – the nuclear attack submarine that Russia has leased to India for a decade, starting from 2012.
Indian Navy officials categorically deny allowing Russian officials on board the Chakra. “We have absolutely no cooperation with America on submarines. On the other hand, we cooperate closely with Russia, and the Chakra is evidence of that. We would never endanger that valuable relationship with Russia”, says a senior navy official, speaking off the record because Moscow has not protested officially.
The report comes at a time when New Delhi and Moscow are negotiating the lease of a second Russian nuclear submarine. It is believed this will arrive in 2022, to replace Chakra when its lease expires. While this arrangement is still being discussed, the lease of a second Russian submarine is important for continuing cooperation in this field.
Adding an intriguing twist to the controversy, another Russian news portal, NEWS.ru, reported on Friday that the Kommersant report is a motivated plant. It said “French lobbyists” had planted the Kommersant report in order to scuttle the second submarine lease, and forcing the Indian Navy to lease a French nuclear submarine instead.
Quoting “a source”, NEWS.ru writes: “There is complete confidence that the throw-in is organised by the lobbyists of France, and it's pretty high quality.”
The US Navy is the widely acknowledged world leader in nuclear submarine technology. However, despite its closeness with India, Washington has made it clear the US Navy regards American submarine technology as a “no go” realm. The US has never shared submarine technology, which it regards as “strategic”.
Kommersant also reported that Moscow was angry over the visit of US officials to INS Vikramaditya, but defence ministry sources in New Delhi flatly deny that. “The US officials only witnessed flying operations on the Vikramaditya, which are often witnessed by foreign officials and media reporters. They are no secret”, he said.