The S-400 missile system deal is a symbol of the strength of India’s “sovereignty” said a Russian official, denying that the deal or other major agreements due to be signed during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin last Monday had been put on the backburner due to concerns over U.S. sanctions.
During the one-day summit, which included a meeting between Mr. Putin and PM Narendra Modi and ministerial meetings, the two sides announced 28 agreements and issued a 99-point joint statement . However, key agreements that had been outlooked for signing during the meetings , including the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS) and a Navy to Navy cooperation MoU by diplomats ahead of Mr. Putin’s visit, which led to speculation that New Delhi had chosen to hold off on these as well as other expected deals for fighter jets and short range missiles until there is more clarity on whether the U.S. will impose sanctions over the delivery of the S-400 Triumf missile systems .
“The Summit came at very short notice, and that is one of the main reasons some particular agreements were not completed” said Roman Babushkin Deputy Russian Ambassador to India, denying there was any delay in negotiations. “All these deals including the naval cooperation MoU, RELOS will be completed at the earliest convenience when the two sides will be meeting for some occasions during the course of the next year,” he added, during an interview to The Hindu .
Apart from bilateral ties, Mr. Babushkin said that India-Russia cooperation on multilateral issues had grown, especially with India supporting Russia’s bid to become an observer state at the Non-Aligned Meet (NAM) this year, and Russian support to India at the SCO. Moscow is now speaking to the Modi government about holding a “to donor conference” amongst other initiatives that are part of a new roadmap for interaction on Afghanistan finalised during the Putin visit, and has also pitched for India and Iran to be included in the “Troika plus” mechanism of Russia-US-China and Pakistan which New Delhi has long felt cut out of.
As The Hindu had reported, the Modi government has not yet decided on whether to send any Indian officials to Kabul, but was considering its options given that about 10 countries including Russia have missions open there.
“Our presence in Kabul is very important for safety of Russians there…We know that more countries are quite keen to come back including the European Union, Germany, Indonesia, and other, according to media reports. So in case the Indian side would be interested in a serious discussion about the Indian presence in Afghanistan, the Russian side would be very open for any dialogue on supporting India,” Mr. Babushkin said in the interview, where he described the outcomes of the 21st India-Russia summit held last week.
On India-Russia nuclear cooperation, he said that the Kudankulam nuclear power project involving six reactors is either operational, under construction, or about to be started, and the government is awaiting New Delhi’s response on the second site for a project for six VVER-1200 reactors.
The US administration has not yet made it clear how it hopes to proceed on the Indian S-400 deal, and whether US President Biden will use his power to waive the sanctions for India in particular, as many American Congressman have advocated. However, the US State department spokesperson has said that there will be no “blanket” waiver for India, indicating that even if the S-400 deal is not sanctioned, other “significant” military and nuclear transactions could still trigger sanctions under CAATSA.
“The S-400 decision is a very strong example of how advanced our defence and strategic partnership is, and how strong Indian sovereignty is, to choose its international partners, especially when it comes to issues of national interest and national security,” the Russian diplomat said, calling the US CAATSA sanctions law an “illegal tool for unlawful competition” and added that the S-400 project does not target the US in any way. Confirming that the delivery of the first of five S-400 systems from Russia is expected to be completed this month, he said that India and Russia were discussing how to use the alternate Rupee-Rouble system for payments that would not be impinged by any sanctions. In 2018 the US sanctioned China, and in 2020 sanctioned Turkey for buying the S-400, and placed defence entities and officials under financial and visa bans.
(with inputs from Dinakar Peri)