India has signed deal to purchase an aircraft carrier and 12 fighter jets from Russia, after nearly a decade of negotiations. The deal also comes as India strengthens ties with the United States.
Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes hailed the $1.6 billion deal as a momentous step in India's long relationship with Russia. "This is a historic occasion, which," he said, "constitutes a major landmark in India-Russia cooperation, in the military-technical field, and a reaffirmation of our strategic relations."
Under the deal, India is buying the Admiral Gorshkov, a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, and 12 MiG 29-K fighter jets. India will take delivery of the aircraft carrier by 2008.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in New Delhi on Monday for a three-day visit intended to strengthen defense ties with India, and to conclude the defense deal. Negotiations for the purchase of the aircraft carrier began nearly 10 years ago.
India had close ties with the former Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. It has bought more than $30 billion of Soviet and Russian arms since 1960. The aircraft carrier is the largest purchase India has made from Moscow since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
But Russia is not the only nation with which India seeks to cement defense links. Earlier this month, the United States and India announced a pact to expand their cooperation in space, civilian nuclear, and high-technology programs. The two nations also agreed to discuss the possibility of India joining a U.S. missile defense system.
The United Kingdom, Japan and Australia have agreed to work with the United States on building the system, which would protect against missile attacks.
On a recent visit to India, U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk said India's high-tech sector could help develop the software used in the system. "There are plenty of software engineers in the U.K., Australia, Japan and the U.S., but given India's new role and potential, her democratic values, and the threat that she faces, I think we should work together," he said.
India and its main rival, Pakistan are both nuclear powers. Before India joins plans to build a missile defense system, Washington would want it to impose a strict export control regime to help prevent the illegal trade of missile technology.