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An unparalleled dispute is emerging between Russia and India, with Moscow suspecting that New Delhi granted US Navy personnel access to INS ‘Chakra’, a Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine operated by the Indian Navy since 2011. This is the latest controversy to afflict the worsening trade ties between the two countries that have enjoyed a rock solid relationship since 1947.

Russian news portal Kommersant reported that the Indian Navy had permitted a US technical crew into top-secret compartments of India’s existing Russian-built nuclear submarine, the INS Chakra, in clear violation of the terms of the contract between India and Russia. India leased this submarine in 2012 for approximately US$700 million and is in talks to acquire another.

The fighter designated the FGFA was to be an Indianised version of the Sukhoi Su-37 PAKFA.

Several sources in the Russian state agencies have asserted that the Indian authorities had recently committed several “unfriendly acts towards Russia.” First, a US Navy delegation had visited the aircraft carrier ‘Vikramaditya’ (property of the Indian Navy), with Russian officials forced to issue a note of protest. Sometime later, a US delegation came aboard the ‘Chakra’.

However, Indian sources have asserted that no such visit of the submarine took place. Indian media reports allege that all such rumours have been made by “French arms lobbyists” to further their own agenda. Indian media have quoted a source asserting “there is complete confidence that the throw-in is organised by the lobbyists of France, and it’s pretty high quality.” The source further states, “In addition to the contract for the construction of non-nuclear boats such the Scorpene [now being inducted by the Indian Navy,] the French have a great desire to enter the Indian nuclear fleet.”

Read more: US strikes at India-Russia defense ties

Indian naval sources, while refusing to officially comment on the controversy, told Indian media sources that no US personnel were allowed onboard the INS Chakra which is based in Visakhapatnam. In fact, they stressed, Russian personnel are posted in Visakhapatnam and help to maintain and operate the INS Chakra.

Several sources in the Russian state agencies have asserted that the Indian authorities had recently committed several “unfriendly acts towards Russia.”

In October last year, Russia and India had reached an agreement with India to acquire the submarine for approximately US$ 2 billion. An existing Russian Navy Akula-2 submarine would be heavily modernised before it is leased to India. That would coincide with the INS Chakra’s lease ending after which it would be returned to Russia.

However, sources assert that Moscow is now reportedly preparing retaliatory measures against its Indian partners also mentioning that there are “a lot of questions” and “difficult talks” ahead. The incident could affect negotiations on leasing the second nuclear submarine which the Indian Navy planned to obtain from Russia.

According to a SIPRI report that came out in February, India remained the world’s biggest arms importer over the past five years. Russia has been the main arms supplier to both China and India. However, newer entrants have tried to take over the lucrative Indian market in the recent years. Major entrants are the USA, Israel and France.

Read more: Is Russia using oil to maintain influence over India?

These potential contenders have been a sticking point in Indo-Russia ties. The recent fighter jet deal called MRCA that saw the acquisition of French Rafale fighter jets prompted a secret scolding from the Russians. According to sources, the Russians threatened to surrender their newly produced MiG 31 fighters to Indian archrival Pakistan. However, India has tried to placate the Russians by promising cooperation in other venues.

Russian news portal Kommersant reported that the Indian Navy had permitted a US technical crew into top-secret compartments of India’s existing Russian-built nuclear submarine.

In May 2017, rumours were rife that India was opting out of a deal revolving around a fifth generation fighter with Russia. The fighter designated the FGFA was to be an Indianised version of the Sukhoi Su-37 PAKFA. The rumours asserted that India sought to replace the FGFA with the American F-35.

Nevertheless, the angle of the competing arms lobby also cannot be ruled out. Last year, an Australian newspaper revealed the leak of classified data on the Indian Navy’s French-designed Scorpene class submarine, the first of which will be commissioned into the navy by the end of this year. At the time, the French newspaper Le Monde, quoting multiple sources, had said that the leak of this data was driven by competition between the French designer of the Scorpene Class submarine and a German firm as they compete to win international orders. 

Read more: Russia-China-India triangle – then and now

The Indo-Russia relationship has persevered since the creation of modern India. However, the bedrock of this relationship rests on the defence deals between the two countries. As new entrants impact these defence ties, Indo-Russia ties as a whole suffer.

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