“India gives the highest priority to ties with Russia, in fact in a changing world, our ties have become more important”: Modi
OCT 5, 2018: India agreed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 surface to air missile systems on Friday, the two sides said, as New Delhi disregarded US warnings that such a purchase could trigger sanctions under US law.
Although there was no public signing, the $5.2 billion deal was sealed during President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing two-day visit to New Delhi for an annual summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The deal was signed on the fringes of the summit,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. The contract gives the Indian military the ability to shoot down aircraft and missiles at unprecedented ranges.
The system is expected to be delivered by 2020, reported India Today.
The United States has said countries trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors would face automatic sanctions under a sweeping legislation called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
A State Department spokesperson said this week that the implementation of the sanctions act would be focused at countries acquiring weapons such as the S-400 missile batteries.
Last month, the United States imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of the S-400 missile system as well as combat fighters it bought from Russia this year. US officials have also repeatedly warned NATO ally Turkey against its planned deployment of the S-400s.
But India is hoping that President Donald Trump’s administration will give it a waiver on the weapons systems which New Delhi sees as a deterrent against China’s bigger and superior military and its perennial threat perception of its western neighbor and arch-rival Pakistan.
Washington is said to be in a difficult position when it comes to New Delhi — its strategic partner in the region — seeking to bolster ties with India to counter China’s growing assertiveness while maintaining pressure on Russia. The US is now India’s second biggest arms supplier.
But Russia is still number one, accounting for 62 percent of India’s total weapons imports during the past five years, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute — and is looking to remain so as India carries out a $100-billion upgrade of its military hardware to counter potential threats from China and Pakistan.
“It means India can take out an aircraft deep inside Pakistan or parts of Tibet. The prime targets are airborne early warning systems and electronic support aircraft which would have a multiplier effect on the capabilities the other side can field,’ said Manoj Joshi from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank based in New Delhi.
“It is also politically important in that it signals that India will not abandon Russia as a supplier because of US pressure,” Joshi told Aljazeera.
India and Russia said in a joint statement at the end of the talks that “The (two) sides welcomed the conclusion of the contract for the supply of S-400 long range surface to air missile system to India.”
The two countries also signed eight agreements covering space, nuclear energy and railways at a televised news conference. “We always arrive in India with great pleasure as we know that we are surrounded here in the environment of very frank friendship, business cooperation,” Putin said.
Russia will also help India in its plans to mount a manned space mission by 2022.
“Russia is a time-tested friend. I am really glad some spine has finally been shown by India,” R.R. Subramanian, a Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst, told AFP.
“It’s about time we […] showed that we are not going to be pushed around by Washington.”
Modi on the sidelines of the Summit said, “India gives the highest priority to ties with Russia, in fact in a changing world, our ties have become more important”.
For all the warm words, ties with Moscow are however a lot less central to Delhi than they were during the Cold War years, as India has diversified arms purchases, closing $15 billion of deals with the United States over the last decade.
However, the deal signed on Friday is a setback to US efforts to “isolate” Russia and it would now have to choose between “punishing” India or agreeing to a waiver.
“This would reinforce the continued strength of a Russia-India partnership even amid a growing US-India relationship,” said Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
“The deal would also mark a major setback to any US efforts to undercut Russia. For Moscow, the inking of a major defense deal with one of Asia’s key growing powers is no small matter.”
Analysts say Washington’s response to the India-Russia deal will be a major determining factor of the future of US-India relations.
“If the US takes the dramatic step of punishing India, which it describes as a key strategic partner, simply for concluding an arms deal with one of Washington’s foes, then that could raise questions as to how serious the US really is about its partnership with India,” said Kugelman.
“In all likelihood, Washington will find ways to quietly signal its unhappiness about the deal without damaging a relationship that it takes very seriously.”