On top of Sitharaman’s Moscow agenda

New Delhi is hopeful of signing a major deal for supply of transport helicopters during Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Moscow from April 3 to 5. Detailed discussions on a slew of other contracts including with Russian companies for manufacturing military spares in India are also likely.

The Indian Embassy in Moscow said Ms. Sitharaman would visit Russia to participate in the VII Moscow Conference on International Security.

“During the visit, the Indian Defence Minister will meet H.E. Army General Sergei Shoigu, Defence Minister of the Russian Federation and other senior leaders of the Government of the Russian Federation,” it said.

The embassy said the “visit is in keeping with the tradition of high-level exchanges between India and Russia and will provide an opportunity to reinforce the traditional warm and friendly relations that exist between the two countries with particular reference to Military Technical Cooperation.”

Mr. Sitharaman will be the first senior Indian government functionary to visit Moscow after President Vladimir Putin secured a comfortable victory for his fourth term as President starting in May.

Additional Order

At the top of the Indian delegation’s agenda is the proposal for an additional order of 80 MI-17V-5 helicopters, estimated at $1 billion. An official said since it is an additional order, most formalities were over, and the deal could be signed during the Minister’s visit.

From the Russian side, the latest offer is of a squadron plus of MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force, which faces a serious shortage of fighters. “It is just an offer, we have not gone in detail into it,” the official said.

Chinese Competition

Also on the agenda is a discussion on the S-400 air defence missile system, which is slated to cost over $6 billion for just five regiments. Among the most expensive weapon platforms in the world, the S-400 is now being supplied by Moscow to China, which could further complicate the proposed bilateral deal with New Delhi.

Another official said the purchase of Kamov-226T helicopters to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters is also likely to be discussed. Sixty of them are to be supplied, while another 140 will be manufactured in India by a JV.

The two sides are also to discuss the purchase of additional frigates for the Navy.

Officials said the Indian side would aggressively push for Russia to set up MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) bases in India for Russian fighters, helicopters, T-90 tanks, artillery, submarines and other platforms under the Make in India scheme. The proposal would offer at least a decade-long contract.