Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped down in India on Thursday for the bilateral annual summit of India-Russia, which would see the signing of three major arm deals totaling close to $10 billion Dollar.
Putin’s 24 hour visit to India could have lasting implications for the India-US relationship as well.
On Friday, the two economies India and Russia are likely to sign over 20 key pacts in areas ranging from defense, nuclear energy, space and economy. One of the expected outcomes of the summit is the joint India-Russia counter-terrorism exercise.
This bilateral summit is also expected to conclude three major military deals- for five S-400 missile systems estimated to cost about 39,000 crore that’s more than $5 billion dollar, four stealth frigates and a deal for AK-103 assault rifles to be manufactured in India.
The Trump administration had earlier reprimanded India that such deals could attract sanctions under the countering America’s Adversaries through Sanction Act (CAATSA) law that restricts defense purchases from Russia, Iran and North Korea.
While India has been in negotiation with the Trump administration for a ‘sanction waiver’, American officials have given no clear signals that they will provide one.
Last month, President Donald Trump’s administration imposed sanctions on China as it started taking delivery of Su-35 fighter jets and S400 systems.
As India and Russia, are preparing to sign the crucial missile deal, India is playing the greatest balancing act of all, steering its defense needs, and long standing strategic relationship with Russia in spite of the threat from Trump administration while protecting growing ties with Washington.
It was not this bad even during the Cold Wars, when despite cries of Non-alignment, India was squarely on the Russian side of the field and the US didn’t see New Delhi as an ally.
Ignoring these issues, now all eyes are on the defense agreements between Russia and India.
Russian President Putin’s visit comes almost one month after India’s first ever 2+2 dialogue with the US, where James Mattis and Mike Pompeo had discussed the scenario with Indian defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry bodies Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj, respectively.
But at the time, India made it clear that it needed the S-400 missiles besides it had a long legacy of souring defense equipments’ from Russia, which India is unwilling to compromise, as the US side reassured that the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanction Acts law would not apply to legacy platforms, but the new buys could be impacted.
On the other hand, the lesser known fact is that Mattis and Pompeo spent over an hour with national security advisor Ajit Doval for a deeper conversation on two issues. One, imports of Iranian oils post sanctions that is about to kick in from November 4 and two, the S-400 missile deal with Russia.
And now, as per the present scenario, India is in a slightly difficult place. The Indo-US relationship is vital for India to balance with its neighboring country China, and its aggressive growth.
It is also worth mentioning that it is also the economic partner of choice for Indian Industry. Russia, however, remains an old partner with a huge piece of Indian defense pie.
Moreover, India has increased its investments in Russia’s energy sector with oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan officially asking Russia to partner in India’s effort to gasify its economy. But, Russia’s closeness to China is a problem that India is uncomfortable about.
Now, all eyes are on the Russia-India bilateral meeting, as PM Narendra Modi-Putin talks has begun in New Delhi.