Defying threats of US sanctions, India signed a contract with Russia to supply five S-400 Triumf missile defence systems, bolstering its shield against possible air attacks from Pakistan and China. While discussions on the S-400 preceded Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) by several years, the US had earlier this week cautioned countries against helping the Russian economy by buying weapons from them. India signed a $5 billion purchase of advanced missile technology from Russia, a deal seen as New Delhi's response to China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean. Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in the Capital last week to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an annual bilateral summit that has focused on energy, security, and defense issues.
The order, which has been under discussion since 2015, was finalised last week. Richard Rossow, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the deal is a signal that the Modi administration is “trying to take steps to counter China”. He said India wants high-end defense equipment for power projection in the Indian Ocean, where Beijing has been growing increasingly assertive.
"The S-400 range would enable India to track aircraft beyond its borders, making it a valuable asset as the People's Liberation Army Air Force extends its training and deployments closer to Indian territory," said Zoe Stanley Lockman, an associate research fellow specializing in defense at Singapore-based Nanyang Technological University. Rated as the most formidable missile defence shield in the world, the S-400 can detect, track, and destroy hostile strategic bombers, jets, spy planes, missiles, and drones at a range of 380 km. IT can also take out intermediate range ballistic missiles, fulfilling a vital security need.
The Putin-Modi summit was a whirlwind that barely lasted 24 hours. Sources said the Russians had asked India to dispense with all the pomp and ceremony of a state visit, and keep it informal, which is why, there was no reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan or visit to Rajghat. A source said, “It fulfils certain defence requirements, and the decision was taken in the national interest.” Both Modi and Putin sat down for a one-on-one dinner that lasted three hours. After, Modi told reporters that India gave “top priority” to relations with Russia.
Referring to the defence cooperation, Putin said, “The military-technical cooperation is not limited to Russian arms supplies. Our countries have organised joint development and production of modern military products.” However, the S-400 contract was buried in the 45th paragraph of a long joint statement.
Threat of sanctions
When asked about the deal, the US gave a guarded response, with the US embassy spokesperson saying they would not “prejudge sanctions decisions.” They said, “The intent of our implementation of CAATSA is to impose costs on Russia for its malign behaviour, including by stopping the flow of money to Russia's defence sector. CAATSA is not intended to impose damage to the military capabilities of our allies or partners. The waiver authority is not for a blanket waiver. It is transaction specific. There are strict criteria for considering a waiver. Waivers of CAATSA section 231 will be considered on a transaction-by-transaction basis.”
Space cooperation is the next big thing between India and Russia as the latter agreed to assist India’s enterprise for a manned spaceflight by 2022. That was one of eight agreements signed between the two sides. “The next goal in our space journey is to send an Indian astronaut in Gaganyaan. I am very happy that you have assured full cooperation of Russia in this mission,” Modi told Putin.