India & Russia are looking at signing a defence logistics exchange pact when President Putin comes calling, with a ceremonial handing over of S-400 Triumf air defence systems likely too.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is to arrive in India today to hold the 21st annual India-Russia summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when. Russian weapons worth billions of dollars are being transferred to India, despite the risk of US sanctions. The desire to drag India into its efforts to contain China could turn a blind eye to the US this time around.
The visit to India will be President Putin’s first foreign trip in last six months. Putin will hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when India receives the S-400 missile defense system under a $5 billion agreement signed by the two sides. A similar agreement between Russia and Turkey led to the US banning Ankara from buying modern F-35 fighter jets.
“It seems Washington is closing its eyes because India’s support in the Indo-Pacific region is extremely important to the US. India has sent a strong signal to the US that it will not tolerate if US sanctions,” said Ruslan Pukhov, a member of the advisory board of the Russian Defense Ministry.
India is a member of the “Quad” group, which, along with the US, Japan and Australia, creates a powerful force to deal with Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Despite US-NATO tensions with Russia running high over Ukraine, India is betting that US President Joe Biden’s attention to China will keep New Delhi safe as it moves forward with defense deals with Moscow.
For Prime Minister Modi, President Putin’s visit is more than just a strengthening of relations that have existed since the Cold War. India needs Russian weapons supplies as the border dispute with China shows no sign of de-escalating.
New Delhi also wants a role in Afghanistan, where Russia, along with China and Pakistan, remain key players after the Taliban return to power.
However, India will keep a close eye on Russia’s actions with Ukraine as this could complicate relations between New Delhi and Washington, said Tanvi Madan, director of the Brookings.
“Delhi says it needs to do certain things with Moscow because it is in India’s interest; Washington says it needs to do certain things with Islamabad because it is in America’s interest,” she said. “Neither likes what the other is doing with its rivals,” says Tanvi Madan.
Given the tentative schedule between the Russian-Indian foreign ministers and defense ministers, Putin’s visit this time is likely to lead to the signing of an agreement for India to order Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets. and MiG-29s, along with 400 T-90 tanks, Indian Ambassador to Russia Bala Venkatesh Varma told Russia’s Tass news agency late last month.
Talking about the 2+2 dialogue, to be attended by both defence ministers and foreign ministers of the two countries, the sources said that Russia’s increasing relationship with China and the Afghanistan situation would be on the agenda.
Asked about maintaining a fine balance between Russia and the US, the sources said that India’s relations with one country cannot be at the cost of another.
They said that Russia remains an old friend whose contribution remains unmatched.
The sources also said that the strategic partnership between India and Russia will also be discussed, as India looks at leasing a fourth nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) besides the Chakra III, a deal for which was signed in 2019, as reported by ThePrint.
Joint development, joint production
Talking about the overall agenda, especially in the context of defence, the sources said that India is looking at moving beyond the buyer-seller relationship.
“The road ahead is about joint development and joint production. We want Russian companies to come and set up shops here, not just for India but also for the world. This will be economically viable for Russia because this means that production capacity increases,” a source said.
Another source explained that while the focus is on joint production, it would be under Transfer of Technology (ToT) and not through royalty.
Sources said that India has always paid Moscow royalty for all India-Russia products manufactured domestically, including the BrahMos supersonic missiles.
This also meant that in future, when India sells BrahMos to a third country, a large share of the revenue will go as royalty to Russia.
The sources said that the AK 203 deal also had royalty incorporated in it, but both sides have now decided on a ToT fee, which has brought down the cost of each rifle.
Russia remains India’s largest arms supplier, but the number of Russian weapons purchased by India has dropped from 72 percent between 2015 and 2019 to 56 percent today, according to statistics from the Research Institute Stockholm International Peace. Meanwhile, India buys more weapons from Europe and Israel and conducts many military exercises with the “Quad”.
India is also a member of an emerging partnership with Israel, the UAE and the United States, which aims to strengthen cooperation on economic and maritime security in the Middle East.