All eyes were on India when Russian President Vladimir Putin touched down at New Delhi last week for the 19th edition of the two-day annual bilateral summit between the two countries. There was apprehension for the outcome of the summit: All because of India’s growing proximity with the U.S. over the past few years—too much inclination towards any superpower can be detrimental to the country’s foreign policy and economic ties in ways more than one. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Putin did it their way signing eight pacts including a $5 billion deal on S-400 Triumf long-range surface-to-air missile system; co-operation between Russia’s space agency and India’s ambitious space mission project Gaganyaan; co-operation in the nuclear field, and a significant increase in bilateral trade.
Sealing the missile system deal with Russia was a risky move from India. It has the potential to harm the subcontinent’s equation with the U.S. Signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) is a move that would allow the country’s military to access critical defence technologies. New Delhi also went forward with its plan with Russia despite warnings from the U.S. that such a deal could attract sanctions. The Trump administration has passed a legislation known as Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to stop defence and energy dealings with Russia, Iran, and the North Korea. It also imposed sanctions on China for buying Russia’s fighter jets and S-400 missile systems between 2017 and 2018. So, political observers weren’t sure if India too would face the music under CAATSA following the missile deal during being signed of Putin’s visit.
Despite the threat of U.S. sanctions, India decided not to be cowed down by external factors when it came to foreign policy—it was a big statement. The country has clearly asserted its strategic autonomy and sent a message to the world that it will continue its defence co-operation legacy with old friend Russia, the main supplier of defence equipment to New Delhi for several decades since the time of the Soviet Union.
They did the way old friends do, not being carried away by the craze and talks around them. For India, it was a restrained move to not strike major defence pact components like stealth warships and assault rifles with Russia while sealing one. This seems to have given the U.S. a reason to consider a waiver for India from sanctions under CAATSA, using the quantum of deals as the yardstick to take such a harsh action on defaulters. India seems to have killed two birds with one stone this time around with its controlled diplomacy. But a time may come when it will be difficult to please everyone.