By inking Russian S-400 deal, India sends message it won’t be cowed by US threats

Cocking a Snook at US President Donald Trump, India has gone ahead to source S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems to fortify its northern and eastern borders. The $5.3 billion deal signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit sends out a strong signal to India’s friends and foes alike. More than the value of the deal, it says that India will be the sole judge and decision maker when it comes to strategic matters. For having defied Washington, the possibility of economic sanctions against India continues to loom. But sanctions have had little impact in the past and there is no reason why India will not be able to weather the storm if the Trump administration decides to employ retaliatory measures against it.

India must indeed fortify itself with the world’s most lethal long-range air missile defence systems. Russia, Iran and North Korea have been subjected to sanctions in accordance with Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for several reasons. India has decided to ignore the US warning that it would be made to suffer if it goes ahead with the defence deal. Interestingly, similar systems in unknown numbers are being supplied to the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army since 2014. India will have five of its own systems in the next two years that will arm the Indian Air Force with the missiles having a range of 400 km. Trump must realise that his policies cannot translate into trampling upon India’s strategic interests. Moreover, Russia has been arguably the largest arms supplier to India from the Brezhnev and Gorbachev eras. Yet another highlight of the Russian President’s visit was the “in-principle decision” to sell four Krivak class frigates to India in a deal valued at $2.5 billion. While it is proposed to build two of these frigates in India, the other two will be delivered in ready-to-induct condition. These frigates, regarded as mini warships, will boost the Indian Navy’s capability to strike enemy ships on surface waters and ocean depths at variable ranges.

The decision to build 12 more Russian advanced nuclear power plants in addition to six already under implementation has led to expansion of the civil nuclear treaty between the two countries. There is no reason why India cannot tango with Russia that is regarded as its “most trusted and a natural ally”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Putin’s decision to expand ties in a space programme is turning yet another leaf in bilateral ties.

From the Make in India campaign, Vladivostok Forum (Eastern Economic Forum) to linkages in a host of global forums like G-20, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to BRICS, there still exists a huge untapped potential for improving ties between the two. The challenge for India will be to balance its relationship with Russia, China and US to further its offensive and defensive interests on the strategic front. Prime Minister Modi will have to handle this tricky issue at a very personal level. His working understanding with presidents Xi Jingping, Putin and Trump has evolved over the last two years. Joining the big boys’ club is not an easy affair.