New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to hand out some big 'Diwali gifts' to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin when the latter arrives in India for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in Goa on Saturday, a full two months ahead of the regular India-Russia strategic dialogue in December.
When we say big, it is in the billions of dollars, and these 'gifts' will come in the form of big military buys that may prove enough to restore Russia as India's biggest arms supplier and re-establish a level of dependence on Moscow that India has been trying to pull out of with equally large purchases from America, Israel and France.
For Russia, fast running out of the money that Putin had stored in two large sovereign funds as oil prices continue to remain depressed, the Indian buys could well be a god-send to sustain the Russian Bear through the winter of Western sanctions.
For India, the stakes are mighty big. Keeping Russia on a leash and away from Pakistan -- with which it conducted an unprecedented military exercise recently against Delhi's strident objections -- is a strategic necessity, especially as Russia falls ever deeper into the China trap. A potential Russia-Pakistan-China alliance -- an alliance with the ability to squeeze Afghanistan and Central Asia, even Iran, into its fold -- would be India's ultimate nightmare.
China and Pakistan are already thick allies, even if not exactly 'all-weather friends' as Pakistan believes their relationship to be, with the latter acting as Beijing's willing cat's paw against India. Letting Russia, a long-standing friend that has for decades helped India against Pakistan, drift into the arms of Islamabad and Beijing would be foolhardy.
It's with Russia in mind that Modi recently re-constituted the National Security Advisory Board, naming a former Russia hand, Ambassador P.S. Raghavan, to head it. And well-knowing that with Putin's impoverished Russia only money talks, the government has lined up some big purchases. These include, according to reports:
The S-400 'Triumpf': Billed Russia's most advanced air defence system, India is expected to buy five 'Triumpf' systems, along with their radar and control systems, each full system costing a neat billion dollars! These are missile systems meant to defend India's important cities and critical installations, such as military bases, against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missile attacks. The system is said to be capable of tracking some 300 targets and shoot down around three dozen of them simultaneously over a range of hundreds of kilometres.
Kamov-226 helicopters: India's HAL and Russia's Rostec are to set up a joint venture to produce some 200 Kamov-226T helicopters, meant for search and rescue, disaster relief, medical evacuation and patrol missions, in Tumakuru, near Bengaluru, in a billion-dollar deal.
Frigates: India is also set to buy four 'stealth' frigates for the Navy for $4 billion, two to be built in Russia, two in India.
In all a cool $10 billion in one shot. Happy, Mr. Putin?