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Back to the USSR: MEA culpa

Jyoti Malhotra  |  New Delhi 

A minor storm is brewing in Indo-Russian relations over Delhi’s refusal to transfer properties in the name of the Union Soviet and Socialist Republics (USSR) to the name of the Russian Federation, considered worldwide to be the inheritor state of the

The matter involves the most important Russian properties across the country, including the embassy in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri, properties on which the cultural and press centres are separately located in the heart of New Delhi, and the consulate in Mumbai.

The consulate in Kolkata was transferred to Russia’s name several years ago by the Left Front government in West Bengal.

Officials in the (MEA) admitted that the transfer certificates of certain properties from the to the Russian Federation had not been made because the ministry was seeking a “package deal”. In exchange for transfer rights, it wanted land from the Russian government so as to expand India’s missions in Moscow, St Petersburg and Vladisvostok.

“The Russians did give us some land in Moscow some years ago, then they took it away,” said an irate MEA official.

Russian diplomats are adamant that talks about any new allocations of land can only be discussed after Delhi first resolves the old issue. They point out that a piece of land given to the Indian embassy in Moscow was indeed taken back but only because the Indian government failed to build on it.

“The died as long ago as 1992 and since Russia was the inheritor state, the properties should have been transferred right away. Today, we don’t even have a home that is worthy of a name in Delhi and Mumbai. This is, perhaps, what our strategic relationship has come to mean,” said a Russian diplomat.

Madhavan Palat, noted Russian scholar and historian, pointed out: “These are not matters that should be left hanging for 18 years. Surely the relationship demands that matters such as these be sorted out. Is this a mark of Indian indifference to Russia?”

The property matter has come to such a head that it was raised by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during his visit to Delhi last December, when India and Russia signed the inter-governmental agreement on building four new civil nuclear power plants at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, the first country to do so after the US-sponsored “clean exemption” given to India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

At the time, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was somewhat embarrassed that the matter was pending, and promised that something would be done.

But when Medvedev and Singh met again in Yekaterinburg, on the sidelines of the Brazil-Russia-India-China meeting in June, Medvedev in the presence of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov raised the matter again.

The Indian side, consisting of the the Prime Minister, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and then Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon, again pointed out that the matter was being looked into.

The Indian leadership preferred to talk about the defence relationship between the two countries, which in recent years has been underlined by Russian assistance in designing India’s ‘Arihant’ nuclear submarine (the design is similar to the Akula class Russian submarine), the sale of the Russian aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Gorshkov’/INS Vikramaditya and supply of state-of-the-art weaponry for the navy.

First Published: Mon, August 24 2009. 00:39 IST