Russia Snubs India Russia has cancelled both its 'Indra' series of military exercises with India. Last month, a flotilla of five warships from the Indian navy's eastern fleet that went for joint naval exercises to Vladivostok in the Russian far-east, was turned back without any manoeuvres. The warships-which included the missile destroyers INS Delhi, INS Ranvir and INS Ranvijay-were warmly received by the Russian navy, but when asked about the exercises, they were told the Russians had no ships to spare. On a request from the Indian fleet, a face-saving 'table top exercise or a land-based simulation, was carried out. What rubbed salt in their wounds was that Russian warships sailed out for an exercise of their own, apparently belying their earlier claims. The cancelled exercise was hushed up even as the warships returned to Visakhapatnam. A befuddled Ministry of Defence (mod) was groping for answers when they were snubbed again. Last week, Russia informed the mod that it had cancelled the upcoming joint army exercises scheduled to be held in Russia in June. One of the reasons given was that the mod had not informed Moscow of the army exercises in advance. Petr Topychkhanov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre says the cancellation of the exercises does not reflect any change in relations with India. "One of the reasons could be the hard process of military reform in Russia. The Russian armed forces are unready for an international exercise at this stage," he says. Since 2003, India and Russia have conducted five of the Indra series military exercises between the armies and navies of both sides. The last such exercise was held between Russian and Indian army units in Uttarakhand in October last year. In sharp contrast, India has conducted over 60 military exercises with the US. Indian defence officials admit that exercises with Russia are largely symbolic but are an important barometer of healthy ties between the two sides. The strategic partnership with Russia still holds. Indian and Russian soldiers Defence Minister A.K. Antony says that Delhi's proximity to Washington will not be at the cost of ties with Moscow. On the ground, however, ties have been on a roller-coaster ride. Russia is unhappy at losing a lucrative $10 billion contract for 126 multi-role medium combat aircraft. The iaf narrowed its choice to France's Rafale and Europe's Typhoon, ejecting US and Russian contenders. Topychkhanov does not rule out cancellation of the military exercises as a retort by the miffed Russians. Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik visited Moscow recently to inspect progress on the joint Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (fgfa). The visit was also meant to mollify Russia and indicate India's commitment to the futuristic fighter which is expected to replace the most current fighter aircraft in the iaf's inventory when it is ready for squadron service in 2017. Relations between India and Russia soured in recent years over the extended deadline for the refit of the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov. The refit slipped by four years and the its cost doubled to $2.3 billion. The carrier will now be delivered late next year. Deadlines for the acquisition of an Akula-II class nuclear-powered submarine have slipped by over three years. India paid $670 million for completing the submarine under a 2003 contract. This month, a 100-man Indian crew that had gone to Vladivostok to bring the vessel back returned empty-handed. There is no word on when the strategic submarine, which the navy desperately needs, will be transferred to India. Russia is reportedly keen that India pay for the completion of a second unfinished Akula hull at the Komsomolsk shipyard. This has been turned down by the navy. The real issue is the poor sourcing of components for Russian-made equipment operated by the Indian armed forces. Over half the inventory of the three armed forces comprise equipment of Russian origin. "It takes nearly a year for us to get even export permissions from Russia. This severely impacts force preparedness," says a defence official. Some of India's consternation over these delays may have spilled over at a meeting between navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma and the visiting Russian navy chief, Admiral Sergeevich Vysotskiy, this January. Various department heads of the Indian navy read out the riot act on the poor serviceability of warships, aircraft and submarines to the Russian naval delegation. After the meeting, Vysotskiy privately conveyed his dismay at the ambush. The warning signs appeared at a recent joint meeting in Moscow when Russian defence officials refused to discuss military exercises. Evidently, it was a portent of the chill to come.