India, Russia Reaffirm Relationship Amid Superpower Pull

New Delhi gets defence boost . . .

On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, for a bilateral summit that resulted in several defence-related agreements. They include a deal for India to manufacture more than 600,000 Russian AK-203 assault rifles and, more importantly, India’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. New Delhi considers the S-400 vital to deterring aggression by two neighbours with which it has hostile relations: China and Pakistan. Defence co-operation has been a mainstay of India and Russia’s long-standing bilateral relationship, with the latter supplying nearly half of India’s arms imports.

U.S.-China factor . . .

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the Modi-Putin meeting was that it happened at all. Last year’s summit was cancelled, with the COVID-19 pandemic cited as the official reason. But many observers didn’t buy that explanation since New Delhi carried on diplomatic engagement virtually with other countries during that time. The real reason was likely a rift over India solidifying its participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad. The grouping includes Australia, Japan, India, and the United States, which, led by Washington, is looking to counter Chinese actions in the Indo-Pacific. Moscow, which finds itself increasingly aligned with Beijing, has not been subtle in criticizing India’s participation in the Quad. New Delhi, meanwhile, has been frustrated by Moscow’s failure to appreciate the seriousness of the threat it perceives from China, especially after the violent Galwan border dispute that erupted last year.

Will Washington carve out an exception for India?

India’s purchase of the S-400 missile system makes it susceptible to the imposition of U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a mechanism through which Washington can penalize partners who purchase military equipment from Russia. Analysts believe the U.S. government will grant New Delhi a waiver, however, even as its own relationship with Russia remains wracked with tensions. In fact, several U.S. senators have lobbied the Biden Administration to make an exception, not out of any sense of democratic solidarity with India, but rather because they feel it is vital to keep India on its side in its rivalry with Beijing.