Amid escalating tension between the US-led West and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, there has been some concern if this would have any impact on India’s procurement of the S-400 Triumph missile defense system.
The US has harshly sanctioned Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Some analysts are speculating if the series of steps taken by the US and its allies to deter Putin’s game plan in Ukraine would have consequences for India too.
The US and European Union have decided to partially cut off a number of Russian banks from the main international payment gateway, SWIFT.
Many experts termed the move as equivalent to exercising the nuclear-weapon option as far as the economic realm is concerned. The assets of Russia’s central bank are also expected to be frozen, constraining Moscow’s ability to access its overseas reserves.
Further, a press release issued by the US Department of Treasury on February 28 explained the purpose of these moves. It said “this will fundamentally imperil Russia’s ability to raise capital key to its acts of aggression. These actions are specifically designed to impose immediate costs and disrupt and degrade future economic activity, isolate Russia from international finance and commerce, and degrade the Kremlin’s future ability to project power”.
The US is also continuing to try and persuade India to join US-led international criticism of Russia over the Ukraine conflict, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We continue to have a dialogue with India at the highest levels to try [and] close that gap [on Ukraine policy],” Lu said at a hearing on Wednesday.
India abstained in a United Nations General Assembly vote condemning Russia over the continuing Ukraine conflict earlier on Wednesday. And while Lu said US relations with New Delhi had never been better, he acknowledged US “concern” over a number of domestic human rights issues in India.
The US sanctions may have the potential to impact India’s military operational readiness as New Delhi is dependent upon Russian arms and spare parts. Russia makes some of the most powerful weapons in the world, all at a cost-effective price.
The latest Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report says Russia is the most important supplier of defense equipment to India, accounting for nearly 65% share of India’s total arms imports. If anything, the series of deals between New Delhi and Moscow in recent years will again increase India’s dependency on Russia further.
The Western restrictions, along with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), may create obstacles in the delivery of the long-range S-400 surface-to-air missile system, but Russia’s ambassador-designate to India, Denis Alipov, ruled out such a possibility.
“I don’t foresee any obstacle as regards to supplies of S-400s to India. We have a mechanism to continue with this deal,” he said on March 2. “We are strategic allies with India. We are grateful to India for (its) balanced position displayed at the UN. India understands the depth of this crisis.”
He further added that “Sanctions will not interfere with the deal anyway.“
Russia started deliveries of its long-range S-400 system to India in December 2021, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said after a visit to New Delhi by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Why Is S-400 So Important For India?
The S-400 is the successor to the S-200 and the S-300 missile system. It is often labeled by various defense journals and military experts as “one of the most advanced defense systems in the world”.
The S-400 is capable of taking down multiple aerial targets including stealth fighter jets, bombers, cruise, and ballistic missiles, and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It has the capability to track radars and airborne threats at a range of 400 kilometers.
Procuring the S-400 defense missile system has become important for India for more than one reason. The Indian Army has been locked in a border standoff with China’s PLA since April 2020.
Above all, both Pakistan and China are working in tandem when it comes to dealing and encircling India, resulting in a two-front war threat for India.
Additionally, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had been struggling to meet the required squadron strength of combat jets for many years, something a number of experts have expressed their concern about. To overcome this problem, IAF has acquired 36 French-made Rafale jets and is looking to procure 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA).
Then-Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa had in 2018 said that the procurement of S-400 and Rafales was “a booster dose for the IAF”.