New Delhi and Moscow are set to finally ink the RELOS logistics exchange pact during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Indo-Russia summit

Defence cooperation is high on the agenda of the 2021 edition of the annual Indo-Russia summit, which will also see the first 2+2 ministerial exchange between the Indian defence and foreign ministers with their Russian counterparts. Coming on the heels of the delivery of the first units of the advanced air defence S-400 Triumf anti-missile systems from Moscow, the summit is to see a significant move towards military cooperation in the form of the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics (RELOS) agreement that the two countries are set to sign. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Are India, Russia Pursuing A RELOS Pact?

Despite growing engagement with the US on military hardware and tech, Russia remains a partner with whom India has shared traditionally deep defence ties. Russia’s growing proximity to China and Pakistan has of late been seen as casting a shadow on the Moscow-New Delhi engagement, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2021 visit is said by experts to be part of a push to augment cooperation between the two countries.

To that extent, RELOS will be an important step forward in the military sphere as it aims at fostering interoperability and sharing of logistics. The “long overdue" agreement was to have come up for signing in 2019 but that was put off pending finalisation of its terms.

The agreement has been described as being part of a broader arrangement that will allow the two countries to scale up their military-to-military cooperation. A report by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) says that “these agreements go a long way in expanding India’s military reach, especially maritime outreach and influence in various regions that are strategically important to India".

What Is Entailed As Part of A RELOS Agreement?

Logistical exchange agreements are designed to lay down the administrative framework through which partnering countries can enjoy ease of access to use each other’s military facilities like ports, bases, and military installations.

As ORF notes, such agreements save “enormous time" and also frees up the need for constant paperwork when one military obtains assistance on matters like refuelling, berthing, use of aviation infrastructure, etc., allowing for a rolling settlement of costs and fees.

“Military logistics… facilitate replenishment of fuel, rations, and spare parts, as well as berthing and maintenance for each other’s warships, military aircraft, and troops during port visits and joint exercises, on a reciprocal basis," ORF points out.

What Is The Strategic Significance of A RELOS Agreement?

Experts note that it is usually the Indian Navy, “the most outgoing force of the three services", that stands to benefit the most from an logistical exchange agreement as these impart “enhanced operational turnaround and strengthened interoperability… on the high seas" by relying on the infrastructure and assistance of partner countries.

A report by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) notes that the RELOS agreement with Russia would grant “access to Russian naval port facilities in the Arctic", thus enhancing “Indian Navy’s reach and operational experience in Polar waters".

It notes further that given the close Indo-Russian military ties and “the percentage of Russian military hardware in the Indian armed forces" means that the two sides can take advantage, through RELOS, of increased interoperability “in any hostile situation in the future". India has acquired advance defence systems from Russia, including fighter jets, and is looking to again obtain a nuclear-powered attack submarine on a long-term lease from Moscow.

IDSA says that from a geostrategic point of view, while giving Indian Navy better access to northern sea routes and Russian ports in the Arctic, where India is looking to set up an Arctic station. Russia and India are also exploring enhanced energy cooperation in the Arctic region.

IDSA also notes that “India’s presence in the (Arctic) region will act as a strategic counterweight to China’s strategic posturing" with Beijing and Moscow sharing “synergy" in the Arctic.

The reciprocal arrangement means that Russian naval ships and aircraft will be also to access Indian ports and bases.

Does India Have Similar Arrangements With Other Countries?

India has logistical exchange agreements with six other countries, including Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, partners US, Japan and Australia. Singapore, France and South Korea are the other countries with which similar arrangements have been effected.

ORF says that following the signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US in 2016, “India has become more comfortable in concluding such arrangements with other countries" and is currently pursuing one with the UK while exploring arrangement with other partners like Vietnam.

These agreements “with like-minded partners extend India’s maritime and strategic reach and influence in the Indian Ocean and beyond", adds ORF.