The development could antagonise the US that has threatened strong sanctions on countries that buys such weapons from Russia

Less than a week before US President Donald Trump, in a special gesture, appears along with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event at Houston, a revelation took place on Monday that has the potential to take the sails out of the India-US ship of bonhomie.

In a disclosure that has far-reaching implications, Sergey Chemezov, head of Rostec, told Russian business daily RBC in an interview that India is in talks with Russia to jointly manufacture the very powerful S-400 air defence missile system. The development will likely further antagonise the US that has threatened strong sanctions on countries that buys such weapons from Russia.

“Yes, we are also discussing localisation with India. A lot of equipment for which we sold a license to India: Su-30 aircraft, then a T-90 tank, BrahMos missiles were created with them together, on their territory, together with their scientists,” said Chemezov.

“Already all paid,” the ROSTEC head said when asked if all payments for the S-400 have been cleared by India. Significantly, he added that Russia had moved away from dollar payments 2-3 years back. “Therefore, basically we have different payment options. Either in national currency or a barter scheme,” he added.

The US has threatened sanctions under the provisions of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). CAATSA became a US federal legislation after being signed into law by President Donald Trump on August 2, 2017 that seeks to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Historically, India and Russia have been very close militarily with more than 60 percent of India’s defence equipment being of Russian origin.

While the first Sukhoi 30 fighter aircraft was inducted into the IAF in 1995, the initial lot of 50 aircraft were imported from Russia and were inducted in the IAF before 2005. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was mandated to manufacture 222 aircraft indigenously out of which about 200 have been made.

The Russian-origin T-90 is a mainstay tank of the Indian Army meant to replace the ageing Russian T-72 tank. By next year, India plans to equip about 21 regiments or 1302 T-90 tanks. After the initial Russian imports, the tank is made at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) in Avadi near Chennai.

The multi-platform, multi-mission BrahMos missile collaboration between India's DRDO and Russia's NPOM is a most remarkable effort. While Indian Army set up BrahMos regiments in 2007, at least 10 front-line Indian Navy warships have deployed the missile. The Indian Air Force is on the verge of integrating the BrahMos missile with Sukhoi-30 fighters.

The state-owned ROSTEC is a Russian conglomerate comprising of 700 strategically important companies both civil and military.

Importantly, Chemezov is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest aides and rumoured to be part of his ‘inner circle’ of advisers. Both Chemezov and Putin were fellow intelligence operatives who worked for the KGB and then its main successor agency the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). From 1983 to 1988 both operated in the then German Democratic Republic or East Germany and shared the same car to work.

But before India, it was China and Turkey that had procured the S-400 from the Russians. The case of Turkey, a key NATO ally, and its keenness to do military business with the Russians has been nothing short of a jolt for the US. In that backdrop, Chemezov’s statement that Turkey may also manufacture some S-400 components will further damage the worsening US-Turkey ties.

On being asked which S-400 components Turkey would produce, Chemezov said: “S-400 is a very high-tech system, which is so easy to start producing from scratch, from an empty sheet is impossible. But individual elements – completely (by Turkey), I will not specify.”