Russia`s selfish volte face

  • 14/09/1993

Russia`s selfish volte face Moscow's abrupt cancellation of the $350-million cryogenic engine deal with India is self-interest, pure and simple. This was conceded by no less a person than Yuri Koptev, who headed the Russian space team in the "negotiations" in Washington.

Cancelling the contract with India, Koptev told a recent parliamentary hearing in Moscow, would not only eliminate a potential competitor to the Russians and the US in the lucrative spacecraft-launching market, it would also assure Moscow huge profits from assured participation in US space deals. Koptev said keeping on the good side of the US would yield about $600 million, whereas honouring the 1991 cryogenic engine commitment to India would bring in only $350 million.

But the cancellation drew a barrage of criticism from the Moscow press. "The real reason for all this," commented the Moscow News, "is a US aerospace lobby that does not want to lose jobs." A harsher question Pravda asked was, "Who will ever deal with us again, if we are so dependent on Uncle Sam?"

Space analysts also noted the US has granted Russia only a limited right -- to participate in future space-launch tenders. And, they warned India may yet seek compensation, which could amount to $500 million, because the Russians reneged on the contract.

Meanwhile, security fears cited by both the US and the Russians in support of the cancellation have been debunked by a group of 60 eminent scientists, many of them Americans. The group says India cannot benefit militarily from cryogenic engine technology because it involves the use of liquid hydrogen fuel "which is unstorable and must be loaded at super-cool temperatures".

Furthermore, the fuelling process takes upto three months, which is obviously much too long in an era of "instant war". As all this is both difficult and expensive, the scientists note no nation has ever used a liquid hydrogen-fuelled rocket engine to power a ballistic missile.

Indian scientists warn that the Missile Technology Control Regime that the US wants to enforce is being applied to rocket technology today -- and could be invoked tomorrow to circumscribe Indian satellites.