As India could be re-evaluating its stand on acquiring the Russian S-400 air defense system fearing US sanctions, its rival Pakistan may have quietly discussed with Moscow the possibility of getting the deadly weapon.
This has sparked speculation that if New Delhi, which is a QUAD ally with Washington, drops out of this deal, Islamabad would not miss any chance to acquire the deadly weapon, which is rumored to have the capability of taking down even stealth fighters.
According to Express Tribune, a senior Pakistan official claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had given Islamabad a “blank cheque”. He was referring to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent visit to Islamabad, during which he had promised that Moscow would supply the Islamic nation with necessary military equipment to fight terror.
“I came with a message from my president (Putin) that tell Pakistan we are open for any cooperation, whatever Pakistan needs Russia is ready for it,” Lavrov was quoted by the Pakistani official as saying.
“In other words, the Russian president offered us a blank cheque,” the official added.
As reported by The Eurasian Times, Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week agreed to cooperate in their fight against terrorism with the former promising to supply Pakistan with military equipment.
Lavrov also said an agreement was also reached on conducting additional joint military exercises such as the Arabian Monsoon maritime drill. The Russian foreign minister arrived in Islamabad after concluding his visit to India.
“We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” Lavrov had said, without giving details about the equipment.
Now, with the Pakistani official’s remark that Putin has given Islamabad a “blank cheque”, the possibility of the Islamic nation acquiring the S-400 cannot be ruled out.
Pak Toying With S-400 Idea?
Pakistan has been toying with the idea of acquiring the Russian S-400 air defense system ever since the news of India-Russia signing a deal on the weapon system emerged in 2017.
“Russia has good tanks, helicopters, electronic equipment, air defense systems that Pakistan may consider. S-400 is a big-ticket number and it will all depend on our budget,” a top military official was quoted as saying by Sputnik News on February 15, 2017.
At that time, questions were raised whether Pakistan would be able to spend that kind of money required to buy S-400. According to an analysis published in The Diplomat, Pakistan would require $2.5 billion to buy at least three regiments of S-400.
“Given that Pakistan was not able to or willing to pay $700 million for eight F-16 fighter jets (a clear budgetary priority) from the United States in 2016 following Washington’s refusal to provide Foreign Military Financing (FMF) support, it is highly doubtful that the country’s defense ministry would allocate $2 billion or more for a new missile air defense system in the near future given other defense priorities,” defense analyst Franz-Stefan Gady wrote.
In October 2018, New Delhi and its old military ally Moscow formally inked a $5.2 billion deal for the weapon system during Russian President Putin’s visit to India. Under this, India would buy four to five regiments of Russian-made S-400 Triumf advanced Air Defense Systems.
The S-400 is considered the most advanced air defense system comprising radars, control equipment, and multiple types of surface-to-air missiles to confront and destroy almost all kinds of aerial targets — aircraft, drones, bombs, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.
However, the US had warned India against the deal in the wake of the 2017 law, called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
According to a recent Reuters report, Washington has told New Delhi that it is unlikely to get a waiver on its planned acquisition of Russian S-400 systems.
The Trump administration had in December imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying that weapon from Russia. Other countries that are facing US sanctions include Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
The Russian S-400 missile is considered the most lethal air defense system in the world, with the capability of bringing down advanced stealth fighters.
The US feels threatened by the S-400 missile, suspecting that it could be modified to intercept American fighter jets, including its “most advanced” F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Russia, on the other hand, believes that Washington is arms-twisting the countries which want to sign S-400 deals with Moscow.
“It wasn’t me who said the US exercised pressure on India but any other country which wanted to sign an agreement with Russia on the delivery of weapons… If the US says this overtly, we all will know, but we also know the reciprocal reaction,” Lavrov told reporters in New Delhi last week.
“With India, we do not discuss these statements by the US. Instead, we confirmed that we are going into diplomatic military cooperation. We have an intergovernmental committee. The military-technical cooperation has its own plan. We also discussed additional manufacturing of the Russian military equipment in India within the concept of made in India and in the concept of independent India. So here I don’t hear any fluctuations or changes from our Indian partners and friends,” he added.