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|July 3, 1998||
Letter bomb: Yeltsin offers arms for CTBTGeorge Iype in New Delhi
Nearly two months after India conducted the five nuclear tests, Russia has begun to insist that continued military co-operation between the two countries would be possible only if India signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Sources in the ministry of external affairs said that President Boris Yeltsin has once again written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee urging India to sign the CTBT.
In a message to Vajpayee on Wednesday, Yeltsin has categorically stated that Russia will continue its military co-operation with India only if the country falls in line with Moscow's calls for nuclear disarmament.
While Yeltsin's letter does not impose a time-frame for India to sign the CTBT, officials said Russia's effort is to act as a mediator between the five permanent Security Council members and India, forcing New Delhi to embrace the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the CTBT.
Though Russia disapproved of the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan in May, it has been opposed, unlike the United States, to international economic sanctions on these countries.
Officials said Vajpayee will soon reply to Yeltsin once again explaining the security reasons behind the nuclear tests and the country's apprehensions on signing the CTBT.
While Yeltsin is scheduled to pay an official visit to India later this year, sources said Moscow wants to ensure that New Delhi falls in line with Russia's policy on nuclear disarmament before the visit.
Russia has been the key defence supplier of India for many years now and both the countries have been bound by a series of military agreements over the years. But Yeltsin's latest letter to Vajpayee putting the military co-operation as a bargaining chip for signing the CTBT is likely to put the Indian government in a quandary.
Recent reports have suggested that India is planning to purchase sophisticated Russian missile batteries to counter Pakistan's Ghauri ballistic missiles. Russia has reportedly offered to supply S-300v/Antei-2500 batteries, which military experts claim, are superior to the US equivalent, the Patriot.
"We really hope that Russia will not back out of the military co-operation with India on the nuclear issue," an MEA official told Rediff On The Net.
He said what really worries India now is whether Russia will link the repayment of the huge loans India owes to Moscow to bargain on the nuclear disarmament treaties.
India owes Russia a long-term debt of Rs 281 billion. The debt was incurred in the form of rouble credits from 1955 to 1990 for defence and civilian goods provided by the then Soviet Union to India.
Currently India is repaying this debt annually by exporting goods worth Rs 30 billion for nearly 10 years, according to an agreement signed in New Delhi in January 1993 between Yeltsin and then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao.
"India is sure to resist the Russian offer to sign the CTBT. But we will be badly hit if Russia asks India to repay the loans in one go that too in US dollars," the MEA official said.
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