by Brig Arun Bajpai

It was only last month that Indian PM Modi was huddled in an informal summit with the Chinese president for life, Xi Jinping, at the Chinese city of Wuhan. Now today the 21 May 2018, he will be sitting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, elected for sixth time as Russian President, for an informal summit at Sochi. This informal summit is as important if not more than the Chinese summit because without any provocation from Indian side, New Delhi has become a cat’s paw not only in the scrap between US and Russia but also between the whimsical president of US Mr Donald Trump and the US Congress.

Just before his departure to Sochi, Prime minster Modi had tweeted that he is confident that his talks with the Russian president Putin will further strengthen the special and privileged relationship which India enjoys with the Russia. This indicates his determination to find a way out of the American CAATSA (Countering American adversaries through sanctions act).This Act has been recently passed by American Congress to penalise Russia as also apply sanctions on any other country who has cosy dealing with Russia. This Act directly affects India and its long durable and cherished defence ties with Moscow. It is very evident that US is trying to whittle down the Indo-Russian ties to force India to buy American weapons and not Russian.

It needs to be remembered that almost 70% of all weapon holdings of Indian Armed Forces ,including fighter aircrafts and naval battle ships, are of Russian origin requiring constant supply of spares. In addition India has approved the purchase of five batteries of Triumph air defence system, most advanced in the world, from Russia at the cost of 4.5 Billion dollars. All this, especially purchase of Triumph system will get affected if a way is not found to circumvent this CAATSA of US. It is true that White House is saying that this CAATSA is not its brainchild but of US Congress, which have to be obeyed. However there is no denying the fact that in the garb of this CAATSA White House is promoting purchase of American weapon systems to India. Although India has asserted that it will not allow a third country to dictate its ties with Russia, nevertheless it will be a difficult task for India.

The fact remains that for last about a decade India has been purchasing more weapon systems from US and western countries then Russia. This defection of India to US has resulted in Russia drifting towards China and Pakistan. One of the main reasons for India’s move towards US and Western Countries for weapon purchase is Russian inconsistency in supply of spares of the weapon purchases and suddenly raising the cost of weapon systems, half way through the deal. It is also true that Russia has now moved to Chinese camp who is India’s enemy number one. India needs US in Indo-Pacific region to check mate the rising clout of China.US also is keen to prop up India in this region to counter China.

One can believe US statements that these sanctions are aimed not at India but at Russia. But then US cannot deny the fact that it is taking advantage of this CAATSA to promote more weapon sales to India. Another argument America is giving as to why India should buy US weapons is because this will help Indian Armed forces to be interoperable in working with the US and in various joint exercises, war games and in actual wars. All said and done India is in a catch 22 situation. It cannot allow Russia to sell major weapons to Pakistan at the same time cannot annoy US. Iran is another factor which India has to keep in mind.US has withdrawn itself from the Iran nuclear deal unilaterally, which was negotiated by US and five other countries with Iran. Now US will impose sanctions against Iran also where India has lot of stakes including development of Chabahar Port of Iran. Need of the hour is for India to convince US that India needs both Iran and Russia and will not sell off its national interest to please America.US can fight its battle with Russia and Iran but not at the cost of India. However the future is going to be tense for India unless US provides waiver for India, possibility of which currently looks remote.

Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd) is a distinguished Defence and Strategic Analyst. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same