The Russian-Indian time-tested partnership has experienced an upward trend in all areas of cooperation in recent years. Last year, the two great powers marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations. The leaders meet regularly and hold phone conversations to discuss acute problems. A very important event has just taken place to bring the two nations even closer.
The Indian Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by PM Narendra Modi, approved the $6.2 billion S-400 Triumf deal with Russia on Sept.26. It’s rather symbolic that the final decision to purchase the five cutting-edge air defense systems to protect Indian critical infrastructure sites was taken just a few days before the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India scheduled on Oct.4-5. The Indian government defied the US threats to impose sanctions for buying Russian weapons in accordance with the 2017 “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) the way it did to “punish” China for buying the same systems and Su-35 combat planes.
The law allows making a waiver for India but US officials do not guarantee New Delhi will be exempt. It takes a risk by dealing with Russia. India has signed multiple multi-billion deals with US weapons producers. Defense Secretary James Mattis and State Secretary Mike Pompeo tried to talk India out of the S-400 deal during the 2+2 talks in September. Randall G. Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, has warned that a waiver is not a slam dunk decision. Indeed, if an exemption is made, others will demand waivers too, but with no sanctions imposed, the CAATSA will be deprived of any purpose. The US has put itself into an awkward situation and has to make a hard choice.
Russia and India are in talks on the way to make non-dollar payments. They could resort to clearing options, another currency, such as the Singapore dollar, or a go-between based in a third country. The US uses go-betweens to sell arms to the Syrian Kurds.
The two nations have a 60-year history of military cooperation, with Russia being the single largest supplier of hardware. The sides joined together to develop the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile. India also fields Russia's S-300 air-defense system, and its INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier is made in Russia and uses Russian aircraft.
The list of Russian weapons used by the Indian military is really long. India is finalizing negotiations with Russia to purchase 48 additional Mi-17-V5 utility helicopters. The agreement on the purchase of four frigates may be signed during the upcoming Russian-Indian October summit. New Delhi also wants to lease a Russian nuclear submarine
Moscow accounts for 62 per cent of New Delhi’s arms imports. The Russian weapons and equipment in the Indian inventory have to be maintained, modernized, and spare parts have to be supplied. India just couldn’t all of a sudden suspend the military cooperation with Russia even if it wanted to. But it doesn’t. It’s widely believed that the S-400s are the best in the world. Nobody else could offer India a system with comparable specifications. And no American sanctions can prevent the great power, such as India, from buying what serves better its national security interests.
The Indian government has been already criticized by opposition for getting too close to the United States. The general elections are in April-May 2019. Signing the deal during President Putin’s upcoming visit will be the right step to win voters’ support. India defies the US sanctions anyway by buying Iran’s oil. New Delhi continued to trade with Tehran during previous rounds of restrictions. The EU, Russia, China, and Iran have recently agreed to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to bypass US sanctions against Iran. Russia and India could do the same.
The two great powers are expected to conclude an ‘action plan’ for expanding civil nuclear energy partnership during the upcoming top-level meeting. It will focus on a second site for Russian nuclear plant in the country. Russia’s Rosatom is currently the only foreign investor in India’s civilian nuclear energy sector, with the first two 1,000W units of the Kudankulam power plant already commissioned. The site is scheduled to have six VVER-1000 reactors with an installed capacity of 1,000 MW each. In March, the trilateral agreement was signed by India, Russia and Bangladesh on nuclear energy-related cooperation in personnel training, experience sharing and consulting support.
Russia played a key role in facilitating India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or Shanghai Pact, last year. It strongly supports India’s bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
No doubt, the October summit will re-affirm the fact that the traditionally close relationship has been upgraded to a “special privileged strategic partnership” as the world is shifting from a unipolar order to a possible multipolar structure. The decision to purchase the S-400 and defy the US exerting outright pressure proves the Indian government is adamant in its desire to boost cooperation with the old partner and friend.