By conducting biggest military exercise IndRa-2017 with Russia— India’s oldest military ally— India has signaled that even if we have initiated proximity with US & other superpowers, still our most trusted partner is Russia.
Neeraj Rajput,
Vladivostok / New Delhi, 04 November 2017
Deplaning at Vladivostok airport of Russia after 17 hour long journey is a tedious one. But as we approached Russian Customs Department for necessary clearance for camera equipment we were carrying, the smart & suave men & women officers exclaim ‘INDRA’, half of our tiredness is dissipated. That signified the ecstasy of Exercise Indra-2017 amongst Russians.

I & my cameraperson, both were the only Indians in the S7 Siberian airlines transit flight from Seoul to Vladivostok. When Russian custom officials saw us they knew exactly why we are there in the far eastern region of the country. By the time we arrived, winter chill under Siberian snow influence had already begun; but warmth of Indo- Russian relations could be felt as we touched Putin’s land.

Since a sizable Indian contingent of about 880 soldiers (& officers) had already landed in Vladivostok & media coverage of joint Indo-Russia military exercise had begun in Russian news channels, Customs Officials knew why these two Indians have landed in the sparsely populated region adjoining Sea of Japan which is separated by Japanese Archipelago from Pacific Ocean.

Since all the custom officials at Vladivostok airport were not averse to English, they politely call another official who could have converse with us in English. It took another 15 – 20 minutes for English speaking elderly looking customs officials to reach there. But, by then, all other 4 – 5 custom officials were speaking to us by gestures. They pulled chair for us to be seated.

By the time we stayed back in Russia for another next few days, I encountered many such incidents of conversation with the locals but that didn’t in anyway dithered me having camaraderie with many of them. Some understood by gestures and others by Google translated text in my phone.

The very same bonding and camaraderie I found among Indian and Russian soldiers during the INDRA exercise — the biggest tri-services exercise of India or for that matter of Russia with any other country till date, for the media coverage of which, I and my cameraperson were in Vladivostok bordering China & North Korea.

Although, first 3-4 days of the 11-days long joint military exercise between 19-  29th October were reserved for familiarizing with each other’s language through gestures. Interpreters came handy for any help. During the operating part of exercise, soldiers communicated by indications and gestures; They were not seen to be having any problem.

The first day of the exercise was a joint land & air forces’ operations, where tanks, artillery guns & rocket launchers were used apart from fighter jets & helicopters. Since mandate of INDRA exercise was counter- terror under UN charter, question arises why such heavy machinery for tackling terrorism! In India, we hardly use heavy weaponry or air-power against terrorists in Kashmir (or in north-eastern states where terrorism has dimmed in past few years).

Are our armed forces gearing up to fight global terror outfits like ISIS in Syria as Russia does? Russian forces do use fighter jets & helicopters to bomb ISIS terrorists in Syria. The answer was given by Indian Task Force Commander Major General ND Prasad (and later by Chief of Integrated Staff, Lt Gen Satish Dua in New Delhi). According to them, the armed forces should be prepared for any (type) of eventuality and circumstances; but where they will have to go & fight war depends on the decision solely by government of the day.

Also, the Russian forces have a different game plan of tackling terrorism and rebellion which is rather different from India (considered as ‘soft’).  Also armed forces in India have human rights as their cardinal principle- part of 10 commandments of army chief. Russia crushed terrorism (rebellion) in Chechnya with iron hands. Although, modern armies consider technology as main tool of warfare, Russian forces believe in might & making impact. So, we witnessed tanks on the road of Crimea (when Russian forces reached there).

By conducting biggest military exercise with Russia— India’s oldest military ally— India has signaled that even if we have initiated proximity with US & other superpowers, still our most trusted partner is Russia. Even though after disintegration of USSR, the superpower of cold war, the power of Russia had diminished but it has regained its position during Putin’s regime. Be it Ukraine or fighting ISIS in Syria or use of S 400 missile shield, Russia is again a force (or superpower) to reckon with.

How trusted our 70 year long friendship is with Russia came to fore again when India conducted surgical strike against terrorists on LoC in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). India had feared a long war after this punitive action in POK— war with Pakistan has much fears of China joining in. According to sources, since, India had not sufficient arms & ammunition to sustain a long war in the aftermath of surgical strike, India approached Russia. Without any much dabbling, overnight, Russia supplied much needed arms & ammunition. This year both India and Russia are celebrating 70 years of friendship, which coincided with the exercise INDRA.

In the past 70 years, Indian military has been depended much on Russian weaponry—be it T-72 tanks, field guns, rocket launchers, MIGs & Sukohi fighter jets, Mi & Kamov helicopters, Kilo class subamarines or even nuclear Chakra submarine (Akula-II class) or most of the naval warships. India’s only supersonic cruise missile (& world’s too) BrahMos was developed in collaboration with Russia.

And that is the reason Indian Air Force was not carrying any of its air-assets to Vladivostok to participate in exercise. The two IL-76 transport aircrafts taken to Russia for carrying India troops were also bought from Russia long back by IAF. IL-76, called as ‘Gajraj’ in India because of their huge size and loads ILs can carry.

Amphibious phase of the exercise was held in Clerk Cape Military Base in Peter The Great Gulf, where the task assigned to land & naval forces was to free an island from the captivity of terrorists. The exercise was delayed by few hours as early morning fog had engulfed the whole island- said to be a secret base where strategic missiles of Russia are deployed (Indian media also got delayed in reaching Vladivostok for coverage as Russian authorities were susceptible of media presence in these strategic bases and thus got visa late in time). Those present during the media coverage were heard saying, “this Clerk Cape base can’t be found in any map or image.” Russia had been a ‘close’ country for years (particularly during cold war days). Even might & actual weaponry of Russia was not known much to the world— and this was considered its biggest strength.

A recent folklore related to President Vladimir Putin is popular in Russia these days. Putin has become a cult in his country (please see the pics of Putin as Russian traditional dolls).

During the fall of Berlin wall (1989), Putin as KGB- man was stationed in Russian embassy in East Germany when thousands of people gheraoed it. Putin armed with a small pistol had responsibility of securing rest of the half a dozen embassy staff. What he (cleverly) did was stood at a balcony of the embassy building and threatened the crowd to kill with weapons of mass destruction stored in basement of the building. Fearing mass destruction weapons whole crowd ran away from there. This is how Putin save himself and his staff there—and the same way he secured Russia after he became President.

Putin is considered as superman who crushed Chechnya revolt & terrorism, wiped out mafia from the country (which had established strongly after disintegration of USSR), successfully annexed Crimea, single handedly dealt Ukraine crisis with the rest of the world, fought ISIS in Syria, deployed S400 missile system which is a force to reckon with and craved by countries like India and China.

If ops exercise during INDRA was gala then closing ceremony was gala. On the sea-side of Sea of Japan in Vladivostok, the forces of both the countries march-past and retreat to their camps with a vow that if situation arises both the countries will strive towards international peace by defeating terrorism. Indian Ambassador in Moscow Pankaj Saran and Primorsky military district head were the chief guests during the closing ceremony.

Vladivostok Airport, Russia
Vladivostok Vladivostok Airport, RussiaAirport, Russia

In the evening of the closing ceremony, Ambassador Pankaj Saran hosted a dinner reception for the contingents of both the countries where Russian artists performed on recent Bollywood chart busters. Though much water has flown in Indus and Razdolnaya rivers since the cold war friendship of India and Russia but craze of bollywood songs and heroes like Mithun Chakravarty has not diminished much—‘Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy…aa ja aa jaa..’ is a blockbuster in Russian cabs.

Indian & Russian friendship can be summed up in what Russian Ambassador in Delhi, Nicloay Kudashev said, “relation with India is second to none.”

(The article is authored by Neeraj Rajput exclusively for National Defence. Neeraj Rajput, Associate Editor (Defence & Security), ABP News was in Vladivostok to cover the Exercise Indra-2017)



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