Managing both US and Russia: A tight rope walk for India
New Delhi, Sep 6: With the '2+2' dialogue between India and the US set to be held today, the focus, among other things, would be on what Washington has to say about India's purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia and import of crude from Iran.
While the threat of sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act looms large over India if it goes ahead purchase from Russia, New Delhi would push Washington for a waiver. On one hand India wants these missiles to strenghthen defence capabilities, but at the same time does not want to sour relations with the US.
India also does not want to irk Russia which has been an 'all weather' friend for decades. Several times in the past, India has given a clear signals that it is neither siding with US, nor does it want to irk Russia.
In April this year when US launched over a 100 missiles on Syria, India neither outrightly opposed the strikes nor did it support it. India did not criticise the US like Iran did, and just said "We urge all Parties to show restraint and to avoid any further escalation in the situation". US carried out strikes claiming that Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad was developing chemical weapons, which both Syria and Russia have vehementely denied. When it comes to the part where chemical weapons are mentioned, India statement says "The alleged use of chemical weapons, if true, is deplorable."
The phrase "if true" is significant. By saying "alleged" and "If true", India has not totally endorsed US claims of chemical weapons being developed by Syria. This statement in itself is a diplomatic masterstroke wherein India has managed to give a clear signal that it is neither siding with US, nor does it want to irk Russia.
Although it may seem that India is slowly moving away from Russia for supply of defence equipment and depending more on the US, France and Israel, the ties between Moscow and New Delhi are old. India cannot do away with its dependence on Russia for help in defence supplies. Two of the most important projects - BrahMos and Sukhoi- have Russian involvement. Moreover, there are still a lot MiG fighters in IAF's fleet which need service support from Russia. Russia has in the past stood by India as a strong ally, since Nehru's times.
As far the US is concerned, India Air Force is facing with the problem of depleting squadron strength. Reports suggest that India might consider a number of F-18 or F-16 fighter jets to address this problem. Recently, India had purchased Apache helicopters from the US. During PM Modi's last visit to the US, it was being speculated that India may buy Predator drones from US.
So, all in all, India needs both the US and Russia and cannot afford to irk either of them.