Testing time for Indo-Russian friendship
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Oct , 2018


So here comes Vladimir Putin, whom Prime Minister Vajpayee once hailed as the worthy successor to Peter the Great, with all his diplomatic might and military inventory to shake the hand with an old and reliable friend that is India. However, the international media is more abuzz about the possible S-400 defence deal with India and Russia.

But the friendship and cooperation with the Russia, earlier USSR, is above all these and has been the hallmark of Indian foreign policy since 1950s. Even an ordinary Indian is grateful to USSR and now Russia to have used VETO on many occasions in the Security Council to bail India out from a difficult diplomatic situation. Recently Russia helped India become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and has backed New Delhi’s long-held demand for a permanent UN Security Council seat. Notwithstanding the above, the worrying signs are the apparent leaning of Russia towards Pakistan and China in recent times. Also there is a difference of opinions between India and Russia on the role of Taliban in Afghanistan. India is not in favour of any talk with Taliban. It is in this background that the negotiations and deals between India and Russia are likely to proceed.

The S- 400 defence deal will be by far the biggest that India would ever enter into. The Russian President Vladimir Putin is arriving to New Delhi on 5th Oct 2018 to finalise the deal that might also include helicopters and frigates. There is no second opinion that India needs this air defence technology to maintain the balance of airpower in the region in view of 20 squadron of F16 and newly inducted J 17 fighters from China that Pakistan has in its inventory. Besides not to forget the huge airpower of over 1700 latest fighter aircrafts including over 800 Generation- 4 fighter aircrafts that the Chinese have.

S-400 is a Russian surface to air missile defence system that can shoot down the enemy fighter plane from the surface itself which is considered way ahead of the American THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system though both are different weapon systems. The Russian-built S-400 is capable of intercepting and destroying airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers. The Americans, ready to offer their Patriot Pac 3 alternative defence system to India do not want India to enter into this deal. Their domestic law CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries through Sanctioning Act) requires to impose sanction to any nation entering into ‘significant transaction’ with Iran, North Korea and Russia. By the way Chinese have already bought this technology from Russia in the year 2014 itself and has also embraced American military sanctions last month.

 India recently had held some diplomatic parleys to allay the fear of American side arising out of this S-400 deal. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis held the first high-level 2+2 talks with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman this month in New Delhi. Both sides have agreed not to expose the differences amongst them and they’ve been able to concentrate on what is common and what is leading to future cooperation. Indian side is satisfied with the India-US dialogue because they have been able to “breach all the differences and bring an agreement that is acceptable to both sides.” It would be an another round of challenging diplomatic assignment for India to secure the American waiver from CAATSA after the deal of S- 400 is finalised with the Russians.

Among these several areas of cooperation between India and Russia –two areas stand out particularly. One is the Russian entry into India’s energy market. A Russian consortium acquired a controlling stake in the Indian assets of Essar Oil for $13 billion in 2017, the largest ever overseas acquisition by a Russian consortium. The Vadinar refinery has emerged as a captive port with a distribution network of over 3,500 filling stations and a nice foothold into the future. India has also bought into Russian energy sources. In 2016 Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, Oil India Ltd and a unit of Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd signed an agreement to purchase a 29.9 percent stake in Tass-Yuryakh oilfield and a 23.9 percent stake in the Vankor oilfield, valued at $3.28 billion.

Russia is better equipped to support India in its nuclear energy requirements. India’s own Kudankulam is set to expand with the deals for the fifth and sixth reactor signed last year, under a 70:30 debt-equity ratio. The Russian government will lend India $4.2 billion to help cover the construction cost of the nuclear park which has a capacity of some 6000 MW. The size of this becomes apparent when it is considered that the total installed capacity of all 22 nuclear plants at present is 6780 MW.

Russia supplies about 60 percent of defence equipment to India. Russia has always been easier about sharing sophisticated defense technology with India compared to Washington. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman pointed out last week that, “We have a big legacy of buying defense equipment from Russia.”Russia’s helping hand in building nuclear submarines may soon be followed by an offer of other underwater vehicles and frigates with a significant ‘Make in India’ content.

At this moment, it is a win-win game for both India and Russia.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Rakesh Kr Sinha

Former DIG and is associate member of Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). Presently Special Advisor to the Chief Minister, Govt of NCT of Delhi.

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