Russian President Vladimir Putin will be on an official visit to New Delhi for the 19th India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit this Thursday and Friday. Putin’s visit will be vital to India from a number of perspectives.
First, the indications that India will pursue a deal on the S-400 surface-to-air missile system apart from discussions on other defense deals with Russia would be able to answer the skeptics who argue that New Delhi has been losing its strategic autonomy and emphasis on multi-alignment by pushing close into the American orbit of influence.
India’s close defense ties with Russia are not only considered imperative for repairing and updating its existing and numerically superior Russian-made defense equipment, but its desire for strategic autonomy and preference for a policy of multi-alignment require defense deals to diversify its military supplies notwithstanding the fact that any major defense deals with Russia are likely to face sanctions under the US law.
New Delhi’s stance on the deal assumes further significance amid indications from the US that India could come under sanctions after the US State and Treasury departments coordinated their efforts to impose sanctions on Beijing’s military equipment development department and its director.
Second, if New Delhi and Moscow come to an agreement favorable to India, it would be able to send strong signals to Islamabad that India-Russia relations cannot be held hostage to burgeoning Russia-Pakistan ties. It is significant that in recent years, Russia and Pakistan have signed agreements and forged ties in areas ranging from naval cooperation, cooperation in the training of armed-forces personnel in the naval field and conduct of joint military exercises to joint counter-narcotics and counterterrorism exercises.
A perception cannot be ruled out that India’s perceptible slide toward the US might have led former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who now serves as prime minister, to redefine Russian relations with Pakistan at the September 2010 Sochi summit, treating Islamabad from a fresh perspective as part of the solution to the problems pertaining to the rising menace of Islamic extremism and drug-trafficking, shifting from an earlier perception of Pakistan as part of the problem.
Third, a fruitful India-Russia summit would enable New Delhi to forge ahead on regional cooperation in Afghanistan. It would further invigorate Indian participation in the evolving regional understanding to stem the tide of terrorism and narco-terrorism in Afghanistan, as a meeting of security officials from Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia in Tehran on September 26 indicated.
It is worth mentioning that India, meanwhile, has been over-dependent on US-led war and peace efforts in Afghanistan. It is not part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (the parties to the group are US, China, Pakistan and the Afghan government) that has been formed to lead the negotiation efforts between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
Fourth, successful outcomes from the Indo-Russian meeting would balance India’s relations with China, after a tilt in favor of the US was indicated at the 2+2 meeting between the US and India on September 6. The two countries signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) during the meeting. This is considered vital from the Indian perspective not only to facilitate Indian military platforms’ access to encrypted, cutting-edge and high-end secured communication equipment from the US, but it is widely speculated that it would allow India to put Chinese moves in the Indian Ocean and Himalayas under close surveillance.
The US and India also agreed during the meeting to conduct tri-service military exercises. Dialogues with Russia would allay Chinese perceptions that India might throw its weight behind the US, Japan and Australia to roll back Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
The upcoming meeting will help India recapitulate what its ambassador to Russia, Pankaj Saran, remarked earlier, that expansion of ties and partnership with Russia were an integral part of India’s Indo-Pacific policy. India’s stance on an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific vision could be reiterated, echoing the spirit of a speech by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 1 at the Shangri-La Dialogue in which he mentioned that New Delhi would not subscribe to any bloc or policy that aimed at containing any particular power.