In­dia puts its na­tional in­ter­est first in the Rus­sian deal

The deal to buy S-400 mis­siles, part of bur­geon­ing Indo-rus­sian ties, will serve vi­tal na­tional in­ter­est. The US is not happy, but a waiver might be round the cor­ner

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ra­jen Harshé

Prime min­is­ter modi and pres­i­dent Putin’s meet­ing at the 19th Indo-rus­sian sum­mit in New Delhi on Oc­to­ber 5 has set a new pace for a ‘spe­cial and priv­i­leged strate­gic part­ner­ship’ be­tween the two na­tions. This has come in the af­ter­math of the Modi-putin in­for­mal meet­ing at Sochi on May 21. With the 19th sum­mit, In­dia and Rus­sia have even­tu­ally inked an agree­ment over lethal S-400 Tri­umf sur­face-to-air de­fence sys­tem de­spite the fact that such a pol­icy could risk the US sanc­tions against In­dia. Ob­vi­ously, the bur­geon­ing Indo-rus­sian ties need to be placed in a long term and wider per­spec­tive of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics be­fore as­sess­ing the role the US and its plau­si­ble sanc­tions against In­dia.

In­dia and Rus­sia (for­mer So­viet Union) have had a his­tory of pro­long col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship in ar­eas re­lated to devel­op­ment and de­fence for the past seven decades. Dur­ing the ini­tial two decades af­ter 1950s, In­dia’s quest to build heavy in­dus­try, rely on a par­tially planned econ­omy, de­velop pub­lic sec­tor that en­joyed com­mand­ing heights of the econ­omy and con­scious choice of build­ing its de­fence re­lated projects through im­port of weapons as well as ex­per­tise from Rus­sia had only stim­u­lated such col­lab­o­ra­tive en­deav­ours. More­over, Rus­sia’s spec­tac­u­lar neu­tral­ity in the Sino-in­dian bor­der dis­pute of 1962 and ac­tive in­ter­ven­tion in re­solv­ing Indo-pak bor­der ten­sions through the Tashkent sum­mit in 1966 had fur­ther strength­ened the Indo-rus­sian rap­port. Thanks to the So­viet sup­port to In­dia dur­ing the Bangladesh war of in­de­pen­dence and the twenty-year Indo-so­viet Treaty of friend­ship and co­op­er­a­tion signed in 1971, the ties be­tween the two coun­tries be­came ‘as firm as steel and as dear as gold’. Sub­se­quently Rus­sia has also helped In­dia in set­ting up nu­clear re­ac­tors and in build­ing space tech­nol­ogy.

Al­though the So­viet Union col­lapsed in 1991, such well-struc­tured re­la­tion­ship that was built over decades could not be dis­man­tled overnight. How­ever, with the breakup of the So­viet Union, Rus­sia be­gan to look to­wards europe to forge trade and busi­ness re­lated ties which led to the de­cline in the Indo-rus­sian trade in the 1990s. In de­fence re­lated mat­ters Indo-rus­sian ties still wit­nessed con­ti­nu­ity as Rus­sia kept giv­ing aid to In­dia in build­ing the Ku­danku­lam nu­clear plant and sup­port the lat­ter with so­phis­ti­cated mil­i­tary equip­ment.

Dur­ing the past two decades, In­dia has emerged as a buy­ers’ mar­ket in the realm of arms and de­fence re­lated equip­ment. Ev­i­dently, the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the So­viet Union pro­vided op­por­tu­nity to the US to sell arms to In­dia. Over the past five years, the US has emerged as the se­cond largest sup­plier of arms and con­trib­utes 15 per­cent of In­dia’s arms pur­chase. Be­sides, In­dia has also suc­cess­fully signed the con­tro­ver­sial Rafale deal with France and opted to im­port 36 Rafale jet air­craft to boost the strength of In­dian air force (IAF). In spite of these new play­ers in the mar­ket, In­dia still buys al­most 60 per­cent of its mil­i­tary and de­fence re­lated equip­ment from Rus­sia. With the sign­ing of the lat­est Indo-rus­sian agree­ments, In­dia has given or­ders for S-400 Trumf air de­fence sys­tem for IAF worth $5 bil­lion.

In­dia’s de­ci­sion to go for the deal is com­pat­i­ble with its na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests be­cause S-400 can lo­cate ac­tiv­i­ties of ad­ver­saries in the air of

Thanks to the So­viet sup­port to In­dia dur­ing the Bangladesh war of in­de­pen­dence and the twenty-year Indo-so­viet Treaty of friend­ship and co­op­er­a­tion signed in 1971, the ties be­tween the two coun­tries be­came ‘as firm as steel and as dear as gold’. Sub­se­quently Rus­sia has also helped In­dia in set­ting up nu­clear re­ac­tors and in build­ing space tech­nol­ogy.

about 600 km and its range is 400 km. It is be­lieved that an S-400, lo­cated near Delhi, has ca­pac­ity to shoot down a Pak­istani air­craft as soon as it crosses In­dian bor­der while it can bring down the Chi­nese one the mo­ment it reaches Ti­betan or nepalese air space. It can also pro­tect petroleum re­finer­ies and dock in­fra­struc­ture of Jam­na­gar in Gu­jarat and de­fend In­dia against pos­si­ble as­saults of Pak­istani fighter planes from Karachi.

Fur­ther, S-400 can be de­ployed against nu­clear tipped bal­lis­tic mis­siles as well. In­dia is also likely to ob­tain four Kri­vak III class war­ships worth $2.5 bil­lion meant for the In­dian navy that is short of ef­fec­tive war­ships. Out of these the first two will be built at the Yan­ter ship­yard in Klin­ingrad in Rus­sia and the other two will be built in Goa Ship­yard Ltd (GSL) with Rus­sian tech­nol­ogy. Be­sides, Kamov 226T chop­pers worth $1.5 bil­lion are likely to be jointly man­u­fac­tured for the IAF by Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Limited (HAL) with Rus­sian tech­nol­ogy at Tumkur.

Fur­ther­more, In­dia has rene­go­ti­ated its agree­ment of 2012 on liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas (LNG) with GAZPROM, an en­ergy giant of Rus­sia. In­dia de­pends heav­ily on ex­ter­nal sources to ob­tain oil and gas. It has a vi­sion to build gas­based econ­omy that has less car­bon in­ten­sity. In June 2018, the GAZPROM de­liv­ered its first LNG cargo through In­dia’s state-owned gas util­ity gail In­dia at Petronet en­ergy Ltd’s im­port ter­mi­nal in In­dia. As per the agree­ment, by the fourth year 2.5 mil­lion tonnes per an­num of gas will be de­liv­ered to In­dia. Be­sides, due to a change in price in­dex­a­tion for­mula the gas will be cheaper than Ja­panese Cus­toms Crude (JCU) or Brent. Sim­i­larly, a Roseneft-led con­sor­tium has ac­quired con­trol­ling stake in In­dia’s as­sets of es­sar oil for $12.9 bil­lion in 2017. apart from note­wor­thy de­fence and en­ergy se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, the Indo-rus­sian ties at the bi­lat­eral level have been evolv­ing in a wide va­ri­ety of ar­eas such as trade and busi­ness, fi­nance, hu­man re­source devel­op­ment, science and tech­nol­ogy, tourism, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, etc. Thus if In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy has dis­played a no­tice­able tilt to­wards the US since the last decade, the lat­est set of ex­change of doc­u­ments and dec­la­ra­tions be­tween the Rus­sia and In­dia have demon­strated In­dia’s ca­pa­bil­ity to strike a bal­ance be­tween the US and Rus­sia.

In­deed, In­dia and Rus­sia have demon­strated a sus­tained com­mit­ment to work to­wards a mul­ti­po­lar world and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in world pol­i­tics. Their ac­tive mem­ber­ship of the transcon­ti­nen­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions such as

Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa (BRICS), Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (SCO) and G20 is steadily chal­leng­ing the hege­mony of the USbased western world or­der.

At the same time, all is not smooth in Indo-rus­sian ties. de­spite Rus­sian’s com­mit­ment to com­bat ter­ror­ism, it has been sell­ing arms to Pak­istan. Osten­si­bly, the arms have been ex­ported to boost Pak­istan’s ca­pac­ity to com­bat ter­ror­ism in Baluchis­tan. How­ever, In­dia per­ceives Pak­istan as a Ji­hadist hub ex­port­ing ter­ror across In­dian bor­ders. Both In­dia and Rus­sia are con­cerned about the de­vel­op­ments in south-west and west Asia. Rus­sia can play a sta­bil­is­ing role in the tur­moil­rid­den Afghanistan. How­ever, it is open to di­a­logue with Tal­iban, and In­dia still is not com­fort­able with that idea de­spite some of its re­port­edly mod­er­ate el­e­ments.

Sim­i­larly, both In­dia and Rus­sia are con­cerned about the US with­drawal from the land­mark nu­clear deal with Iran ar­rived at through the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion (JCPOA) in 2015. Since Iran, along with Rus­sia, has been sup­port­ing the As­sad regime in Syria which has a dis­mal record on hu­man rights, the US has had no hes­i­ta­tion in im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Iran. De­spite the US sanc­tions, In­dia is im­port­ing oil from Iran and it has built Chaba­har port in Iran to gain ac­cess to Afghanistan be­cause of its in­abil­ity to do so via Pak­istan. Geopo­lit­i­cally, Iran is cru­cial from the stand­point of North-south Cor­ri­dor and In­dia’s ac­cess to mar­kets in cen­tral asia. Fi­nally, Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion in Ge­or­gia (2008), an­nex­a­tion of Crimea (2014) and in­va­sion of Ukraine (2014) have prompted the western coun­tries to im­pose sanc­tions on it. In­dia has been dis­in­clined to im­pose uni­lat­eral sanc­tions on any in­di­vid­ual states un­less the de­ci­sion to that ef­fect has been ar­rived at un­der the aus­pices of the UN. Al­though it has ex­pressed con­cern over Rus­sian poli­cies, In­dia has re­frained from tak­ing stance in any fluid sit­u­a­tion and en­cour­aged con­cerned par­ties to re­solve dis­putes at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

It is ob­vi­ous that Indo-rus­sian re­la­tions have had their com­plex nu­ances. The US is in­evitably con­cerned about these ties, es­pe­cially In­dia’s quest to ac­quire S-400. The US Congress has passed Coun­ter­ing Ad­ver­saries of Amer­ica with Sanc­tions Act (CAATSA) that tar­gets third coun­tries with sub­stan­tial trans­ac­tions with Rus­sia’s en­ergy and de­fence sec­tors. In­dia con­sid­ers that CAATSA is es­sen­tially an Act passed by the US Congress and not a body like the UN; so it is un­der no obli­ga­tion to fol­low it and thereby it is free to sign treaties with friendly coun­tries like Rus­sia. At the same time, know­ing the US ap­pre­hen­sions, the fa­mous two-plustwo meet­ing tried to ad­dress ques­tions sur­round­ing the deal in Septem­ber. This meet­ing held be­tween In­dia’s de­fence min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man and ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj on one hand, and US de­fence sec­re­tary mike Pom­peo and sec­re­tary of state James Mat­tis on the other, has sen­si­tised the Amer­i­can sec­re­taries to In­dia’s se­cu­rity sen­si­bil­i­ties. The In­dian side seems con­fi­dent that a waiver to this deal will come from pres­i­dent Trump.

In fact, the Indo-rus­sian deal has to be viewed in the con­text of a broader strate­gic part­ner­ship that is evolv­ing be­tween In­dia and the US. In­dia has emerged as a ma­jor mar­ket for the US and the trade be­tween the two coun­tries has grown phe­nom­e­nally from $5.6 bil­lion in 1990 to roughly $140 bil­lion in 2017. Af­ter the Indo-us civil and nu­clear agree­ment be­came op­er­a­tive in 2008, the two coun­tries have evolved strate­gic part­ner­ship. More­over, Quadri­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Di­a­logues (QSD) be­tween In­dia, the US, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia and their ef­forts to pro­mote joint naval ex­er­cises have strength­ened the re­spec­tive po­si­tions of these states in the In­dian Ocean and the over­all Indo-pa­cific re­gion. The US es­pe­cially is re­ly­ing on In­dia and Ja­pan to coun­ter­bal­ance China’s un­prece­dented might in world pol­i­tics. Be­sides, both the coun­tries are com­mit­ted to fight ter­ror­ism spon­sored by di­verse groups such as Al Qaeda and Is­lamic State in south, south-west and west Asia. Be­sides, In­dian di­as­pora also con­sti­tutes a pow­er­ful lobby in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics of the US. Thus, against the back­drop of a plethora of the mul­ti­ple and multi-lay­ered ties be­tween the two coun­tries, In­dia be­lieves that the US will be sen­si­tive to In­dia’s de­fence and se­cu­rity re­quire­ments and its long as­so­ci­a­tion with Rus­sia.

So far, In­dia has only inked the agree­ment but has made no pay­ments yet. This has left ma­noeu­vring space to sat­isfy US queries and get a waiver. Un­der the worst con­di­tions, even if sanc­tions are im­posed by the US, In­dia has al­ready faced and han­dled US sanc­tions ef­fec­tively when it be­came a nu­clear weapon state in 1998. Ob­vi­ously, In­dia which is much stronger to­day need not get de­terred while serv­ing its vi­tal na­tional in­ter­est by be­friend­ing Rus­sia.

The US is in­evitably con­cerned about these ties, es­pe­cially In­dia’s quest to ac­quire S-400. Af­ter the two-plus-two meet­ing, the In­dian side seems con­fi­dent that a waiver to this deal will come from pres­i­dent Trump. In fact, the In­dorus­sian deal has to be viewed in the con­text of a broader strate­gic part­ner­ship that is evolv­ing be­tween In­dia and the US.

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