Russia and India on Friday entered into a contract for surface-to-air missiles which will significantly enhance India’s air defence capabilities. Over the next 54 months, Russia will sell five S-400 Triumf missiles worth $5.43 billion. The conclusion of the deal during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Delhi, despite the threat of US sanctions on countries entering into commercial contracts with Russia, means that India has decided to prioritise its national security interests. This acquisition, according to Indian Air Force chief BS Dhanoa, will be a “booster shot”.

Separately, public sector oil refiners are reported to have finalised contracts to purchase more oil from Iran. Even this move runs the risk of US sanctions. But this financial year Iran has been the second largest oil supplier to India. At a time when India’s macroeconomic parameters are being tested by a sharp increase in the price of oil, we can ill afford to shut out a major supplier. India has dealt with prior US sanctions on trade relations with Iran by avoiding dollar denominated transactions and routing payments through Indian banks which are primarily domestic in business orientation.

It’s a testing time for India’s policy makers. Unilateral US sanctions on countries with which India has over-lapping interests require nimble-footedness. But it’s not as if India doesn’t have leverage. India-US relations, particularly in defence, have deepened over a decade. In September, the two countries signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), one of four foundational agreements US signs with its allies to facilitate interoperability between militaries. This agreement also opens up additional commercial opportunities for US. India must use the prospect of further deepening of ties to persuade President Donald Trump to offer India a waiver for the S-400 deal. The relevant US law empowers Trump to waive sanctions on individual transactions to help allies.

In the current global scenario, India has to play its cards carefully. Even as it deepens a strategic relationship with US, it has to ring-fence its ties with countries such as Iran and Russia from collateral damage triggered by US foreign policy. This requires skilful diplomacy and the need to make a compelling case to the Americans. The benefit of doing this is that it will allow India to expand its relationship simultaneously with myriad partners without compromising on its strategic interests. External affairs ministry has its work cut out.