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Gorshkov price talks may extend beyond PM's visit to Russia

A File photo of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier.

NEW DELHI (PTI): No end seems to be in sight in the protracted price negotiation for Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, which is likely to extend beyond Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow next month, increasing uncertainty over its timely delivery in 2012.

"The negotiations with the Russians for the Gorshkov warship is continuing. I do not think the talks are likely to end before the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow next month," a Defence Ministry official said here Sunday.

"During Singh's visit to Moscow in December, only two defence agreements would be signed to extend military and technical cooperation by another 10 years to 2020, and for assured after-sales maintenance and spare parts supply of Russian defence equipment used by the Indian Armed Forces," the official said.

When asked if the new price for the 45,000-tonne Gorshkov, for which the Russians are demanding an additional USD 2.9 billion, could be clinched, he replied in the negative, noting that the talks may not conclude before Singh's visit.

"The talks for a new price could go into next year," he added. The Kiev-class warship was originally scheduled for delivery in 2008.

The Indian side has held a series of talks at various levels on the escalating costs and delivery delays with the Russians, including during Defence Minister Antony's visit to Moscow last month, and is keen on bringing down the additional cost to about USD 2.2 billion.

India plans to have the Gorshkov -- bought in 2004 for USD 974 million along with 16 MiG-29K fighter jets for USD 526 million and rechristened INS Vikramaditya -- by 2012 before the Navy's lone aircraft carrier INS Viraat is decommissioned from service.

It is also building an Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) at its Cochin Shipyard in Kerala and the first in the series of three IACs is likely to be delivered by 2015.

But the Russians pushing for a price hike since 2007 citing escalating cost of refitting the warship at their Sevmash shipyard and additional cabling work may derail the Navy's plans.

In its latest report, the CAG has pulled up the Defence Ministry for the "300 per cent" increase in the cost of the "second hand" aircraft carrier to USD 3.9 billion whereas a brand new aircraft carrier was available at about USD 4 billion to USD 5 billion.

However, the Navy's argument in favour of Gorshkov has been the unwillingness of other countries building aircraft carriers to sell the platform to India.

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