India, Russia ink four defence pacts; AK-203 rifles to be made in UP

Four agreements were signed in the meeting, including a contract to manufacture over six lakh AK-203 assault rifles

New Delhi: Defence minister Rajnath Singh and Russia’s defence minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu on Monday held the 20th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-M&MTC), in which four agreements were signed, including a contract to manufacture over six lakh AK-203 assault rifles. The deal is worth Rs 5,124 crores. These guns will be produced at Korwa, in UP’s Amethi, in a boost to “Make-in-India”. The two sides also signed an agreement to renew the Programme for Military Technical Cooperation for another 10 years, till 2031.

Speaking at the inaugural India-Russia “2+2” dialogue, Mr Singh said India faced challenges arising out of the “extraordinary militarisation” in its neighbourhood and the “completely unprovoked aggression” on the northern border, but without naming China. This was a reference to the ongoing military standoff with the Chinese PLA in Ladakh that began in April-May 2020.

Besides Mr Singh, the “2+2” foreign and defence talks were attended by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian defence minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu.

The 7.62 X 39mm calibre AK-203 assault rifles, to be made in Korwa, will replace the in-service INSAS rifle inducted over three decades back. The AK-203, with an effective range of 300 meters, are lightweight, robust and easy-to-use modern assault rifles with proven technology that will enhance the combat potential of soldiers to adequately meet present and envisaged operational challenges. They will enhance the operational effectiveness of the Indian Army in counter-insurgency operations.

The project will be implemented by a special purpose joint venture called Indo-Russian Rifles Pvt Ltd (IRRPL). It was created with the erstwhile OFB [now Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Ltd (AWEIL) and Munitions India Ltd (MIL)] of India and Rosoboronexport (RoE) and Kalashnikov of Russia. The Russians dropped the royalty charge to bring down the cost of the project after it got stuck.

Russia has also started the delivery of air defence system S-400 Triumf, for which a Rs 35,000-crore deal was signed in 2018.

During the meeting, Mr Singh termed Russia as India’s long-standing “special and privileged strategic partner” and said the relations were time-tested and based on common interests in multilateralism, global peace and prosperity, mutual understanding and trust. He appreciated Russia’s strong support for India and stressed that the close cooperation was not targeted against another country.

Mr Singh said: “Recognising that its development needs are colossal and that its defence challenges are legitimate, real and immediate, India seeks partners who are sensitive and responsive to India's expectations and requirements.” He also hoped Russia will remain a major partner for India in these “changing circumstances”.

He added: “We have proposed greater engagements in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean region. India is a continuation of the vast Eurasian landmass and at the same time central in the enormous Indian Ocean region. We are optimistic about Russia’s cooperation in all the domains.”

Referring to his meeting with Gen. Shoigu, Mr Singh said he discussed the “emerging challenges India is confronted with and India’s enhanced requirement for closer military and military-technical cooperation with Russia.”

In his remarks, Mr Jaishankar said India-Russia ties have been “close and time-tested” in a world that has changed so much. “They (ties) have been exceptionally steady,” he said.

“We are meeting at a critical juncture in the global geopolitical environment which is in great flux, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic… As close friends and strategic partners, India and Russia have been working together to safeguard our common interests and to ensure peace, progress and prosperity for our peoples,” he added.

The external affairs minister said the situation in Afghanistan has wider repercussions, including for Central Asia.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the 2+2 ministerial dialogue mechanism will further expand traditional understanding and help reinforce the bilateral special and privileged strategic partnership. “Both Russia and India have a similar worldview of a more polycentric, more multipolar, more equitable world order. We advocate similar or identical positions on the most important political and military issues,” he said.

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