Vladimir Putin arrives in India, focus on S-400 missile deal

Larry Hoffman
October 5, 2018

Russian-Indian summits became regular annual events, taking place on a parity basis alternately in India and in Russia. A large number of agreements are expected to be signed, which is normal for India-Russia summits.

Putin arrived in Delhi on Thursday evening and he and Modi were due to have dinner before the main talks on Friday. "Looking forward to our deliberations, which will further enhance India-Russia friendship", followed by a tweet in Russian. The missile system, manufactured by Almaz-Antey, has been in service in Russian Federation since 2007. The two leaders are expected to ink the S-400 air defence system deal among other key issues, including the U.S. sanctions on Iranian crude oil, the Times of India reported. However, India has made it clear through technical presentations that it will not allow sharing of signatures of US-built platforms with IAF through the S-400 system, one reason why the United States, which recently a key military communication agreement with India have a dim view of this deal.

India is cautiously optimistic about the Trump administration granting a CATSA waiver on the basis of a positive three-hour-plus discussion between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary Defence James Mattis and US NSA John Bolton on September 14 in Washington. This deal may attract economic sanctions from the US under CAATSA, since US President Donald Trump is yet to certify the deal. The waiver provision will be available to India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

A Russian news agency also reported that at the summit, the two countries will sign a number of bilateral agreements, one of them being Dollars 5 billion arms deal of delivery of S-400 air defence missile to New Delhi.

India is in a slightly hard place - the USA relationship is vital for India to balance China and its aggressive growth.

Even as India is trying to stabilise its defence ties with Russian Federation, there are growing concerns in New Delhi about Russia's increasing tilt towards Pakistan as it seeks to curry favour with China.

As in the past, New Delhi is expected to raise the issue of countering terrorism and Pakistan supporting terrorists. Today, however, there is a change in how Moscow views its regional priorities in South Asia. But its closeness to China is a problem that India is very uncomfortable about.

The US is in a hard position as it seeks to contain China through better ties with India, which like Washington has been unnerved by Beijing's growing assertiveness. With an eye on China, New Delhi and Washington have been building a closer partnership. India has been reducing its weapons buys from Russian Federation. It is up to the political leadership of the two nations to rise to the occasion. It is now a strong votary of negotiating with the Taliban and has given short shrift to Indian reservations in this regard.

India-Russian relationship is passing through an interesting phase.

The writer is Professor of International Relations, King's College London, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation.

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