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Updated: December 7, 2009 10:46 IST

India-Russia civil nuclear pact practically sealed

Sandeep Dikshit
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reviews the guard of honour after his arrival at Vnukovo II airport outside Moscow on Sunday. Singh is on a three-day official visit to Russia.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reviews the guard of honour after his arrival at Vnukovo II airport outside Moscow on Sunday. Singh is on a three-day official visit to Russia.

The Prime Minister arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit that will see the inking of three pacts in the field of defence, including one for ending ad-hocism in servicing Russian military equipment.

India and Russia have practically sealed the framework agreement on an omnibus nuclear energy agreement and bridged differences on the price to refurbish aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov) that will project the country’s naval power in the Indian Ocean for at least two decades, said highly placed government sources.

Describing the proposed civil nuclear energy pact as “path breaking,” the sources said both sides only needed to sort out one sentence. The pact covered the gamut of nuclear cooperation and was a “significant document” as it went far beyond the 123 Agreement in the civil nuclear energy sector signed with the United States.

The India-Russia pact promises enrichment and reprocessing rights to India and assures the country against termination of ongoing projects and fuel supply arrangements if bilateral nuclear cooperation is ended for some reason.

The pact with the U.S. has fallen short on both counts. Negotiations on enrichment and reprocessing could not be concluded in time for the Prime Minister’s visit last month to the United States. And on termination of nuclear cooperation for reasons like India testing a nuclear device, the 123 Agreement stipulates the immediate return of equipment and fuel.

“We are hoping we will sort out that sentence during delegation-level talks led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the Russian leadership,” said the sources. The new Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, Srikumar Banerjee, will be accompanying Dr. Singh, along with India’s key nuclear negotiator R.B. Grover, to initial the agreement once the leaders approve the formulation finalised by officials from both sides.

Asked about the “festering wound that is Gorshkov,” the sources said it had been “healed.” Maintaining that both sides had “more or less” reached an agreement on the price that had been the bone of contention for nearly five years, they said India appreciated the quality work done on the gutted aircraft carrier, which was given free of cost as a gesture of friendship.

However, due to a hasty visit by the first negotiating team during the closing days of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre and an equal disregard shown to detailing by the Russian side, it was found that the refurbishment cost had been grossly underestimated. Since then, both sides have had four rounds of high-level negotiations to reach a mutually agreeable, revised figure. The first batch of four MiG-29 fighters meant for the carrier have reached the country and the aircraft carrier, which sources say is the “best value of money,” could arrive at a naval dockyard by 2014.

The country is currently struggling to keep its sole aircraft carrier, bought second-hand from the British, in operational service while an indigenous version is still under construction. Other options are deemed too costly as compared to the Russian carrier. With the arrival of the INS Vikramaditya, the country will continue to remain the only Asian military power to operate an aircraft carrier group.

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