Relations soured by row over rockets: Moscow smells protectionism in Washington ban on India deal

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The Independent Online
AT 9 Red Proletariat Street, the shabby corporate headquarters for Russia's rocket salesmen and reluctant focus of a noisy tiff between Washington and Moscow, the end of the Cold War means only one thing: betrayal by Russian diplomats and bullying by America's.

That at least is how officials at Glavkosmos, the commercial arm of Russia's space programme, see an accord reached in Washington last Friday curtailing their right to sell rockets and related technology to India.

'They are trying to hang a dead cat around our necks to hide what they do themselves,' says Nikolai Semyonov, chief of Glavkosmos's international department and architect of the crumbling New Delhi contract. He dismisses as absurd Washington's charge that his company is spreading destabilising rocket technology and undermining the so-called Missile Technology Control Regime, not a treaty but a non-binding set of guidelines.

He shows a diagram of the rocket India wanted to develop. The main launch system, he says, uses liquid-fuel technology sold by France and the United States. Russia's contribution under the terms of the 1991 contract covers only engines for a separate satellite module. They would use a cryogenic system that requires up to three months of cooling and other preparation before use - far too long, he says, for military purposes.

Russia had promised to provide the know-how needed to manufacture this cryogenic system in India, as well as at least two pre-assembled rockets. Worth a total of some dollars 350m (pounds 232m), the deal gave Russia the chance to fund its own space industry.

But now, after relentless pressure from Washington, the deal has been 'frozen', though Mr Semyonov and other officials at Glavkosmos say they have no intention of honouring any promise given to the US State Department by Russian diplomats alone. Only a signed order from the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, or Boris Yeltsin, will do, he says.

Over the past month Washington has turned the issue into a test of what it regards as the most important component of a new world order: a ban on the spread of nuclear weapons and the missile technology needed to launch them. Many in Moscow, though, see only protectionsm and hyprocrisy.

The quarrel has already torpedoed a trip to Washington by the Prime Minister, soured relations in general and probably marked a clear end to the post-Soviet honeymoon between Moscow and Washington. Glavkosmos, instead of being commended for its free-market savvy, has been hit by US sanctions sharply limiting its ability to do business with American firms.

'The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs should defend Russia's interests just as the State Department defends those of America,' complains Mr Semyonov, 'Unfortunately, we don't see this happening. Instead, they work against us, against Russian industry and businessmen. I do not understand the reason for this.'

Russia's space industry is furious at what is seen as an attempt by the US to keep Russia out of potentially lucrative markets and thus poor. 'Their strategic purpose is very simple: to keep us in the state of a colony capable of providing raw materials but not high technology,' one official said. Much of the Russian media agrees.

'The real reason for all this is a US aerospace lobby that does not want to lose jobs,' said Moscow News, which has added its usually moderate voice to the harsher bombast of papers such as Pravda, which said of the affair: 'Who will ever deal with us if we are so dependent on what Uncle Sam tells us?'