2018 has seen some major developments in the bilateral relations between India and Russia as the Summit which happened on Friday, 5th October 2018, was the third meeting between the two countries after an informal meeting in Sochi and a formal one at BRICS Summit in South Africa. This does indicate a slight policy change on part of the BJP government which in the pursuit of improving its ties with Washington over the past few years ended up with a fallen annual trade with Russia to below $10 billion since 2014.
This Summit lead to discussions and mutual agreements over issues related to mutual trade and infrastructural developments in India, mainly railways, nuclear power and the Gaganyaan mission. However, the discussion which attracted everyone’s attention was centered around India’s signing of the Russian S-400 Triumf Missile Shield Systems Deal. This is not the first time that India has decided upon purchasing weapons from Russia; in fact, since the 1950s, it has been one of the prominent suppliers of weaponry to India.
S-400 is composed of the missile launchers themselves, powerful radar and a command centre, which makes it capable of tackling aircraft, cruise missiles and fast-moving intermediate range ballistic missiles alike. In fact, this long range air defense system is bad news even for some of the most advanced jet fighters.
Thus, quite clearly, the purchase means a lot for India in terms of upgrading its defense systems, which basically formed the primary reason for going ahead with the same. China already has its hand on the technology since 2014, which made it all the more imperative for India to enter into this agreement with Russia. India shares a conflict of interest with China regarding power politics in the Indian Ocean where China has been growing its influence quite aggressively, especially after having launched a military base in Djibouti, East Africa. Likewise, the One Belt, One Road initiative of China has also played a role in emphasizing on the contentions between the two states. Besides the ongoing conflict with China, India has always been at loggerheads with Pakistan, a country which stands right next to India and receives a massive share of its weaponry from China; this again serves for India as another reason to strengthen itself at the military front. India’s subtle anxiety over the consistently good relations between China and Russia seems to be another reason for India to finalize this deal despite the potential threat of deterioration that could follow in terms of India’s position with the United States of America.
Last year the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump enacted the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). On account of this, India because of its defense based dealings with Russia might be subjected to automatic penalties, which is similar to the sanctions imposed by the USA on China for its purchase of the same weapons from Russia. Over this matter, statements have been received from the United States where they have agreed upon making waivers on a case to case basis because at the end of the day, the law is meant to penalize Russia for its acts with which the United States does not identify.
While the USA had warned India on the one hand, it is quite obvious that India’s inclination towards it over the past few years would have brought Russia to a position of skepticism. With respect to this, India has clarified that it is indeed following an independent policy and the possibility of buying more weapons from Russia does exist at least as per the current situation.
From a policy standpoint, India definitely did a wise thing by going ahead with the new purchase and signing of a couple of other agreements based on the need of the hour. Somehow, what we also need to note is that it was not that difficult a decision for India to make specially if the situation is looked at from the point of view of a US-Russia divide because historically too India has never aligned itself on any one side while averting itself from the other. Currently India needs a technological exchange with the USA, at the same time it needs the armament assistance from Russia. In the post Independence period it was important for India to arrange itself in such a way in the world politics whereby it could do what is best for it depending upon the situation and so it is today. Considering this major tenet of India’s stand in the world politics, it is fair for India to go ahead with new ties while preserving the older ones.
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