Wednesday, April 21, 2021

If US Presses India Out Of Russian S-400 Deal, Pakistan Could Be Its Prospective Buyer

India is finding itself entangled in a new dilemma vis-a-vis Russia, as the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 8, 2020, indicated that India’s idea of entering the US-led QUAD is ‘devious’ as it would be a conglomerate of the anti-China camp, which has every potential to undermine New Delhi’s relationship with Moscow.

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Notwithstanding the reservations of its old friend, India has gone ahead with QUAD, signing the BECA agreement with the US, to take on China even if at the antagonism of Russia.

Russia knows the long-term implications of India’s entry into the QUAD, and accordingly, the first sign of its disenchantment came when it canceled the Indo-Russian summit on December 23, 2020, for the first time in two decades.

The whole situation now, obviously, boils down to India’s efforts to procure the best defense system, S-400, from Russia which will definitely invite ire from Washington.

Everything is now moving on the expected lines as on January 5, 2021, The Indian Express reported that ‘India’s S-400 deal with Russia may trigger US sanctions’. India had in 2018 gone ahead with the signing of a $5 billion deal with Russia despite the US President Trump’s warning.

According to the report, ‘The (US) Congressional Research Service (CRS) – an independent and bipartisan research wing of US Congress – in its latest report to Congress, said India is ‘eager for more technology-sharing and co-production initiatives, while the United States urges more reforms in India’s defense offsets policy and higher Foreign Direct Investment caps in its defense sector’.”

Indian PM Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The CRS report went on to warn that “India’s multi-billion-dollar deal to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense system may trigger US sanctions on India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”.

What is S-400?

‘The S-400 is an integrated air defense system featuring radars, command and control equipment, and four types of surface-to-air missiles. The four types of missiles used by the S-400 have ranges varying from 40km to 400km and can shoot down aircraft, drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.

The Indian Air Force has repeatedly referred to the S-400 as being a game-changer, as reported by The Week on June 13, 2020.

It is not clear what difficulties the deal will bring for India with the country caught between a rock and a hard place in choosing between the best air defense system in the world, the S-400, and its crucial military partner, the US. Recently, ruling Party BJP MP Subramanian Swamy had openly sought ‘not to buy’ S-400 as it is made of ‘Chinese electronics’, creating more troubles for the government.

Russia has already spelled its reservations as it considers India to have become a component of the QUAD strategy, which aims to pin down China, something apparently unacceptable for Russia. India has sought an early delivery of the air defense system and Russia, understandably, is slated to deliver it in December 2021, but owing to the growing chasm between the two countries, the delivery might get further delayed.

India is now completely in the US bloc but despite that the US sanctions may be incoming once the procurement is done, since Turkey, a NATO-ally, too has been slapped with sanctions as the country had gone ahead with S-400 after refusing US stealth jet fighters. Turkey would cry foul if India is not dealt with the same yardstick.

The US, which forced India to enter into BECA, as all the while from June onwards when India lost 20 of its soldiers to China, India sought for help from the US and its President Trump instead offered ‘mediation’ between China and India, until India finally succumbed to sign BECA.

Now the possibility just cannot be discounted that in the backdoors, the US might be forcing India to abandon S-400 and buy its Patriot missile system. But many defense experts argue that the S-400 has no match in the world.

There was euphoria in India when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered ‘New Year 2021’ greetings to India’s President RN Kovind with no mention of its new friend Pakistan, but what if India decides to say ‘No’ to the S-400 deal with Russia, then cannot it be possible that the same may be supplied to Pakistan?

It would surely bring the US sanctions on Pakistan but Pakistan has no more stakes from the US as after F-16 fighters, Pakistan seems content with what it has. It hasn’t been that late since, on December 21, 2020, the Russian ambassador to New Delhi NR Kudashev had said that Russia is committed to developing ties with Pakistan towards which India should have no concerns.

The issue, therefore, will be a hard nut for India to crack. For India, it will be difficult sailing as India can be against China with the US support but it cannot be against Russia, owing to around 70 percent of its weaponry being of Russian origin.

The situation is challenging particularly when Russia is siding with China against the US, owing to QUAD which would be the lasting memory of the outgoing US President Donald Trump. QUAD may turn out to be a bottleneck for India. It remains to be seen how India comes out of this quagmire.

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