The USA should not overlook the fact that a militarily strong India with support from Russia can be an effective deterrence against China and any steps contrary to it may hinder Washington’s ambitions to partner with India as a counter-balance to Beijing.

This was argued in a paper titled ‘It is time that the United States concedes to the reality of the Indo-Russian Friendship’ published by South Asian Voices (SAV) an online policy platform for strategic analysis on South Asia. It is hosted by the Stimson Centre in Washington, D.C.

The paper was interestingly published on the eve of the US Defence Secretary’s three-day India visit. “The United States, which is averse to India’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile systems, will have to acknowledge the close defence relationship shared by India and Russia before threatening the former with sanctions. Any move to impose sanctions on India under CAATSA, an act aimed at targeting Russia, could threaten America’s relationship with India, a potential partner in counterbalancing China,” the paper affirmed.

“The outgoing U.S. Trump administration tried to dissuade India from inducting the S-400 air defence system it purchased from Russia, warning India of potential sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). With the imposition of the U.S. sanctions on Turkey through CAATSA in December 2020, the threat of placing India under similar sanctions risks both incentivizing India to strengthen its relationship with Russia and hindering Washington’s ambitions of partnering with India as a counter-balance to China. The United States’ threat to impose sanctions places India in an uneasy position and invokes a history of tension between the two states. Specifically, this risks the possibility that the United States may overlook the point that a militarily advanced India (albeit through Moscow’s support) could serve as a more effective means of deterrence against China,” according to the paper jointly authored by Aniruddha Saha and Neha Dwivedi.

Saha is pursuing his PhD at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London and Dwivedi is a Research Analyst at Janes.

“It is not surprising that following the cooling down of tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2021, India’s Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla met with his Russian counterparts, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister, Igor Morgulov in Moscow… the most important take away from the meeting remains the fact that Shringla thanked Moscow for providing an avenue through which India could undertake disengagement talks with Chinese forces at the LAC…,” the paper pointed out.

The India-Russia relationship is shaped by a variety of factors, defence cooperation is one of them. A major proportion of the platforms, weapons, and equipment in service with the Indian military is of Russian origin. In contrast to the United States, Russia’s technology is more compatible with India’s arsenal, making it an attractive and more convenient option for India. Joint production and transfer of technology are some of the most valuable aspects of the India-Russia defence relationship. Russia’s technology, combined with India’s low production cost, supports India’s effort to indigenize its weapons, according to Saha and Dwivedi.

There are reports that on Saturday Austin had raised India’s purchase of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia, and stressed that allies and partners should avoid “any kind of acquisitions that will trigger sanctions”. He was firmly told that India’s armed forces have a diversified portfolio. He was also told that the process to acquire the Russian system began much before the US introduced the CAATSA.

Former Indian Ambassador to Russia Kanwal Sibal reacted strongly to Austin’s suggestions to India. “CAATSA is US not int’l law. Has waiver provisions. US sanctions will be doubly wrong: imposing domestic laws on others & refusing permissible waiver. Govt firm on S 400 contract with delivery starting end 2021. India won’t back away. US sh’d stop interference in our Russia ties. US unwise to ask us on our soil to not buy Russian arms to avoid sanctions. Implies we can be punished for sovereign decisions, US law can condition our Russia ties, we can’t choose partners freely. Assumes US more reliable def partner, untrue historically & raises future doubts,” Sibal tweeted.