India-Russia S-400 trade: Why Vladimir Putin’s visit this week is too important
New Delhi, Oct 3: The world will keep a close watch on India this week as Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to visit New Delhi on Thursday, October 4, for a two-day visit for the annual India-Russia summit. According to a top source in the Kremlin, the two sides will sign the multi-billion-dollar worth S-400 surface-to-air missile system on the occasion. The S-400 is Russia's most advanced air defence system and it has been in the limelight since the US was warned against the deal. The Donald Trump administration has said that the deal will be considered a "significant transaction" and could see imposition of tough America sanctions.
In September, President Trump signed an executive order that would see imposition of crippling sanctions on countries and foreign entities and individuals who violate the CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).
The US also slapped sanctions on the Chinese military last month to penalise it for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, violating the law that punishes Moscow for its alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
In case of the India-Russia deal, can New Delhi afford to annoy the US and go ahead with its purchase from Russia? In one way, this constitutes a challenge to the integrity of the BRICS platform, something which has encouraged the world to dream of an alternative world order. Though China hasn't objected to the India-Russia bonhomie which is trying to regain the ground of yesteryears, the US is allegedly trying to dilute the bloc's integrity through its pressure tactics to isolate India from the two other big powers of the BRICS - Russia and China.
Both India and US have stakes
This makes President Putin's upcoming visit to India all the more significant. Some media reports have predicted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will settle the purchase but there is no official confirmation on the same. Either way, New Delhi will have a balancing act to do. If India goes with the deal despite the US's warnings, the message will be that it is trying to forge multiple alignments in its external affairs to take benefit of the world power rivalry. But if it doesn't, then its international image will take a beating and Modi's leadership will be perceived as weak.
The US also has its stake in this episode. Washington and New Delhi are far away from the original Cold War days and both sides have considerable self-interests to serve in today's geopolitical and geoeconomic realities. If it imposes a sanction on India, a country which has come closer to it because of reasons related to security and economic, then its anti-China and anti-Pakistan plans will be in jeopardy. If it doesn't, then Trump will be seen as a leader who only talks big.
There could still be a way whereby India buys the S-400 system from Russia and the US doesn't impose a sanction. The compromise formula will be India intending to use them as defence against China and Pakistan and also promising the US a drastic reduction of consumption of resources from Iran in exchange of a waiver.