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International relations

Russia pushes for more military-equipment production in India

Foreign Minister Lavrov seeks to deepen cooperation, while US warns of sanctions

An Ansat Aurus helicopter is seen at Kazan Helicopter Plant, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters, in Kazan, Russia. India and Russia have been discussing the possibility of making Russian military helicopters in India.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -- Russia and India are discussing "additional" production of Russian military equipment in India, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday, in a move that could irk the U.S. which frowns upon countries engaged in defense trade with Moscow.

Speaking at a joint news conference with India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Lavrov did not specify what kind of equipment could be made in India.

Officials from both countries have said their governments have been discussing for some years the possibility of making Russian military helicopters in India.

“We have confirmed our determination towards the development of military-technical cooperation," Lavrov told the briefing, adding there was an inter-governmental commission dealing with the subject.

"It has its own plans, and the prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment on India’s territory are under discussion,” he said.

India has made Russian MiG fighter planes and Su-30 jets under license and the two countries have collaborated to develop and produce supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles in India.

While joint defense production would fit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship make-in-India program, it could rile the U.S., which has been targeting Russia's defense and intelligence sectors with trade sanctions for Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and U.S. intelligence findings it has meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Lavrov said the U.S. has been trying to discourage countries from buying Russian weapons, but U.S. objections did not feature during his talks with Jaishankar, which had focused on deepening military ties.

Washington has already warned New Delhi that it could face sanctions if it goes through with the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems under a deal struck in 2018, though it has not made the same threat over other Indian arms purchases from Russia.

Last year, the U.S. sanctioned Turkey for buying S-400 systems. India made an initial payment of $800 million in 2019, and the first set of missile batteries is expected to be delivered towards the end of this year.

Jaishankar said ties with Russia were time-tested and that the two sides also discussed a summit meeting between Modi and President Vladimir Putin later this year.

"India-Russia ties are characterized by consistent ability to identify and update shared interests," he said.

Russia has traditionally been India's main arms supplier but Delhi has turned to the U.S. and Israel in recent years for supplies of attack helicopters, transport planes and high-tech drones and other surveillance equipment. 

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