India Intelligence Report

   US-Russia Rift Widening


In a series of issues, the diplomatic, military, economic, and political rift between the US and Russia are widening debunking chances of closer cooperation and threatening to retreat to the Cold War days. In a recent set of harsh remarks, US Vice President Dick Cheney accused Russia of using its oil and natural gas reserves as tools of "blackmail" and instruments to bully its neighbors.

Cheney said, "No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation." Obviously referring to the standoff with Ukraine in December 2005 when a pricing row caused Russia to stopped gas supply to transitory pipelines through Ukraine and disallowing Ukrainian fuel to flow through Russia. Russia, which is trying to shape itself as a major oil and energy provider, drew severe international criticism forcing it to climb down to a compromise formula.

Russia is also bitter about US plans to increase its air force levels in Kyrgyzstan, expansion of NATO and Ukraine's plans to join the World War II Alliance, and inclusion of other Soviet nations

Russian relations with Ukraine soured dramatically, after the so-called "Orange Revolution" in 2004 that brought a pro-Western Government to power in Ukraine. Recent statements from Ukraine that it expects a "green light" to join NATO angered Russia prompting it to terminate defense hardware procurement contracts and a joint program to design a new transport aircraft. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said "Ukraine's membership in NATO will entail a number of consequences" and those are severe.

Russia buys high profile big-ticket items such as engines for Mi and Ka series combat and transport helicopter engines and naval gas turbines from Ukraine. A bulk of Ukraine defense industry manufacturing is tailored to supply components and spares required by the Russian military. Russian Air Force Chief General Vladamir Mikhailov said that Russia would trash a joint development program for an AN-70 transport plane and instead focuses on a parallel program with India. Russian Irkut and Indian Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) signed an agreement in 2001 to develop a tactical transport plane. Presumably, Mikhailov is referring to an upgraded version of this program to replace the one with Ukraine.

Apart from these economic, political, and military issues, consensus on dealing with Iran's nuclear program is proving to be a major diplomatic problem area. Russia is balking at EU and US plans to impose stiff sanctions on Iran and is demanding proof of Iranian plans to develop nuclear plans. The US feels that Russia is deliberately stopping its efforts in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) because everyone knows that other than circumstantial evidence, a "smoking gun" is impossible to deliver. The US is also sore when Russia points out that similar assertions on Iraq has been wrong and gets incensed by the comparison and suggestion.

How US-Russian relations will have global impact, as Russia is not only a UNSC veto-bearing nuclear power but also a major energy supplier. Lack of consensus will affect global economic recovery, fight against terrorism, nuclear disarmament, efforts to fight nuclear proliferation, and controlling spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Living in a geographical area replete with failing states, such a scenario will be a security disaster for India.