by Elton Gomes
During the upcoming 2+2 dialogue with the US, India is expected to inform the US that it will be going ahead with the Rs 40,000 crore missiles deal with Russia. It is expected that India will convey this message despite American sanctions on military transactions with Moscow, official sources said.
“India has almost concluded the S-400 missile deal with Russia, and we are going ahead with it. Our position on the issue will be conveyed to the US,” a high-level official source told news agency PTI.
New Delhi is hoping that it will escape sanctions from the US. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis will be travelling to India this week for the 2+2 dialogue that will be hosted by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on September 6. India’s plan to purchase the S-400 missiles has been a bone of contention since long for the US.
What is the deal?
On October 15, 2016, Indian and Russian governments signed an agreement for the procurement of five regiments of Russian-made S-400 Triumf advanced Air Defense Systems. After China, India was only the second country to receive one of Russia’s most advanced air defense systems.
Later, in May 2018, local media reports said that India and Russia have ended price negotiations for the procurement of five regiments of Russian-made S-400 Triumf advanced Air Defense Systems. A top government official said that the deal is likely to be publicly announced during a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is scheduled to be held in October 2018.
What has the US said?
The US issued a stern warning to India to revise its decision to buy the missiles, or face sanctions. Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs at the US department of defence, said, “We still have some very significant concerns if India pursued major new systems and platforms with Russia. That will be the President’s decision,” the Print reported.
In an attempt to keep China’s growing ambitions in check, the US has been trying to push for better ties with India. India has turned to the United States and France to procure new weapons, but is still dependent on Russian expertise to maintain its existing stock of weapons.
What could happen if India finalises the deal with Russia?
A top official from the Pentagon said that the US cannot guarantee that India will be exempted from sanctions if it purchases weapons and defence systems from Russia. Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, expressed doubt whether US would protect its relations with India. “I would say that is a bit misleading. We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and systems (from Russia),” Schriver said at a think-tank event, according to a report in Al Jazeera.
The US has imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. This means that any country that engages in defence or intelligence sharing with Russia could also face sanctions from the US. A new bill gives President Donald Trump the authority to exempt countries from sanctions. Although Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said that he is a strong advocate of granting waivers to India, Schriver said that Trump’s authority would not mean that he will automatically grant a waiver.
Why US does not want India to buy the missiles
Rakesh Krishnan Simha, who is a journalist, foreign affairs analyst, and military observer, broke down the reasons why India’s decision to purchase the missiles assumes importance. Speaking to Sputnik news agency, Simha said that India, China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are interested in procuring the S-400 because the missile system is extremely accurate and highly lethal.
“With a tracking range of 600 km; the ability to destroy hostile aerial targets at a range of up to 400 km and altitude of 30 km at a blistering speed of 17,000 km an hour, the S-400 is a truly lethal air defense weapon,” Simha told Sputnik News.
Simha then explained why the S-400 is a strategic non-nuclear missile. In such deals, the buyer and the seller have greater interest. Moreover, weapons made in Russia have been known to have longevity, and the S-400 could serve the Indian armed forces well for the next few decades.
Furthermore, the US seems to be eyeing the Indian defence market, and a major deal with Russia could be a potential roadblock.
How does this weigh in before the 2+2 dialogue?
Keeping in mind the 2+2 dialogue with the US, India finds itself in a tight spot, but will hope that the US will grant a waiver from sanctions.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that India had made it clear to the United States that its relationship with Russia was lasting and that the dynamics of Indo-US ties cannot influence it. “I like to make it clear here that in all our engagements with the U.S., we have very clearly explained how India and Russia’s defence cooperation has been going on for a very long time,” Sitharaman said, as per an IANS report.
She added, “It’s a time-tested relationship and India has got quite a lot of defence assets from Russia. Assets, spares, servicing, we have a continuous relationship with Russia.”
Why is the deal a cause of concern?
The US will be carefully eyeing India’s next move as it seems that Trump might be ready to impose sanctions on India. India will try and reason that the Russian deal could be important due to the change in security issues in the region, but the deal continues to be one of concern for the US.
Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said, “The S-400 (SA-21 Growler), when properly operated, is a potent medium-to-long-range surface-to-air missile system. To be most effective, however, it needs to be integrated with other air defence systems and components — such as radars — operated by the purchasing country. This however, presents problems if some of these have been bought from the U.S. or potentially other Western states, where the required levels of integration will not be possible because of security concerns,” the Hindu reported.
Congressman Harry Cueller was of the opinion that India wants more technology sharing and co-production with the US. However, “The issue is: if we provide more technology and India buys the S-400, it raises concerns… it is about a third party and how they could access some of the technologies. We do have some concerns which we have conveyed at different levels in the Government,” he told the Hindu.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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