India, Russia hold 21st summit, and first 2+2 dialogue - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 December 2021

India, Russia hold 21st summit, and first 2+2 dialogue

New Delhi says decision on S400 purchase from Russia will be guided by "national security interest"

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 7th Dec 21


On Monday, New Delhi and Moscow issued to the world a high-visibility reminder about their “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership,” as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held the 21st India-Russia Summit, an annual ritual that they missed only in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Leading into the 21stsummit meeting, India and Russia held their first-ever 2 + 2 Ministerial Dialogue, in which External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar and Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh together held strategic discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. 


“We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend. The relations between our countries are growing and I am looking into the future,” Putin said in his initial comments.


After the 2+2 meeting, Jaishankar tweeted: “A productive exchange of perspectives on cross-cutting and inter-related issues. Will be reporting it to the Annual Summit later today.”


Earlier on Monday, there was a meeting of the apex body that governs defence relations between the two: the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC), co-chaired by the two defence ministers, Singh and Shoigu. 


India’s military uses Russian weaponry extensively, such as Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft, T-90S tanks and BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, Talwar-class frigates and Kilo-class submarines. The two sides have jointly produced the highly-regarded BrahMos cruise missile system.


During the 17th Annual Summit, the two countries concluded agreements on India’s procurement of five units of the S-400 air defence systems for an estimated Rs 37,000 crore, construction of Talwar-class frigates under Project 1135.6 and a shareholders agreement on a joint venture (JV) to manufacture Kamov-226T helicopters in India.


The S400 is regarded as the world’s premier long-range missile system, with the ability to shoot down enemy aircraft at ranges up to 400 kilometres. During the confrontation over the last two years between the Chinese and Indian armies in Ladakh, China deployed the S400 along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).


On March 3, 2019, in Amethi, Modi announced another JV – Indo-Russian Rifles Private Ltd – that would manufacture 750,000 AK-203 assault rifles at Korwa under the “Make in India” program for an estimated US$ 687 million.


Russia is also competing for a Rs 40,000 crore deal for building six submarines in India under Project 75I, and a Rs 50,000-60,000 crore agreement to manufacture 114 fighter aircraft in India.


To ensure that Russian defence equipment was not hampered by any shortfall in maintenance or spare parts, the two sides agreed during the 20th Annual Summit in Vladivostok in September 2019 to cooperate in producing spare parts for Russian/Soviet military equipment.


The India-Russia defence partnership is being tested by Washington, especially through the piece of legislation the US Congress passed in 2017, titled CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act). This provides for US sanctions to be imposed on countries that have significant defence or intelligence relations with Russia, Iran or North Korea. India’s purchase of the S400 missile system is regarded as a potential trigger for Washington to impose sanctions.


While the US Congress has created a “CAATSA waiver” for close partners such as India, the US president is required to determine whether to exercise that waiver. So far, President Biden has not stated a preference.

India, which faces a growing threat from China, is determined to buy the S400 from Russia. Asked whether New Delhi would bow to CAATSA pressure, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson stated last week: “India and US have a special global strategic partnership. And we also have a very special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia. And as you're all aware, we pursue an independent foreign policy. This applies to our defence acquisitions, and supplies which are and will continue to be guided by our national security interest.”


New Delhi and Moscow have identified trade and economic relations as a priority area. Modi and Putin have set a bilateral investment target of US$ 50 billion and a bilateral trade target of US$ 30 billion by 2025. Despite the economic slowdown and Russia’s dispute with the West over Ukraine, these targets have already been achieved. 


The two countries also hold exchanges and training exercises between their armed forces annually. 


Russia’s ambassador to India, Nikolai Kudashev, stated in the run-up to the summit: “One of the outcomes would be a sizeable and formidable joint political statement. It would be a very comprehensive document covering all dimensions of our ties.”


The last summit meeting between Modi and Putin took place on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in November 2019.


This is only Putin’s second journey outside Russia since the pandemic began. The first was to Geneva in June, for a summit meeting with his American counterpart, Joe Biden.


The two sides are expected to sign 28 agreements/ bilateral pacts on defence, nuclear power, trade and investment, energy and high technology.

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