NEW DELHI—It’s been two weeks since U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a video call to discuss a range of issues on the U.S.-Russia agenda, including the United States’ and allies’ concerns about Russia sending troops to the Ukraine border. But just a day before the video call, Putin had made a quick trip to India for a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Radomir Romanov, a Senior Officer of Asia-Pacific International Institutions and Multilateral Cooperation Studies Center at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, told The Epoch Times that by meeting Modi on Dec. 6, Putin made a very “simple and understandable” signal to Biden that he can negotiate behind Biden’s back with nations that matter to the United States.
The brief summit between Putin and Modi took place hours after the inaugural 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defense ministers of the two nations. In all, the two countries signed 28 deals that included government-to-government pacts in several areas include defense.
In mid-November, Moscow also started delivering its S-400 air-defense system that New Delhi purchased for $5.5 billion in 2018. The first unit of this Russian defense system, which China has also deployed along its border with India in Ladakh, is expected to become operational in India before the new year.
However, procurement of the S-400 system is liable to American sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which has already been used against Turkey and China. India’s acquisition has already led to speculation about the United States giving a CAATSA waiver to India to prevent tensions between the two countries from developing.
Romanov defined India as a “zone of influence of the West” and said that in the evolving dynamics between India, the United States, and Russia, two areas of these recent negotiations are most significant: India’s purchase of weapons from Russia and the evolving regional dynamics over Afghanistan.
Before Putin’s visit to India, the Indian Ambassador to Russia, Bala Venkatesh Varma, had said that Russia remains one of the most important arms suppliers to India and that at the bilateral meetings would involve discussion of military and technical cooperation between the two countries for the next decade.
In an interview with Russian news agency TASS on Nov. 1, Varma said that the current volume of bilateral defense between India and Russia had reached $ 9-10 billion per year from $2-3 billion in 2018.
Romanov highlighted that India is one of the five largest buyers of arms from Russia and the last defense contract between India and Russia was signed in February when New Delhi decided to expand its fleet of 59 MiG-29 combat aircraft by purchasing an additional 21 aircraft.
“For this deal, the government allocated 74.1 billion rupees (about $979 million). To avoid U.S. sanctions, both countries agreed to trade in their respective national currencies,” said Romanov in an email adding that Putin’s visit to India means that “Russian gunsmiths will be loaded at least until 2031.”
India and Russia have also been jointly producing 700,000 units Russian AK-203 assault rifles in the Indian city of Corva since March 2019, said Romanov, adding that since India is a “zone of influence of the west,” the purchase of Russian weapons “partially reduces” the influence of the United States.
Russia also has a growing defense cooperation with India’s adversary, Pakistan, with whom India has fought four wars. Russia was maintaining a low-key relationship with Pakistan to not antagonize its ties with India, but with India’s growing bilateral ties with the United States, including the signing of the India-U.S civil nuclear agreement of 2008, Moscow has been warming to Pakistan. More recently, Russia and Pakistan have also been involved in joint military drills.
“Now we have the inclusion of Russia in the scheme to fight Pakistan … it will be possible to sell weapons on two fronts and watch the battle from above,” said Romanov.
He added that India-Russia cooperation shouldn’t be limited to the joint production of weapons and Russia “must show” that it can be a “real alternative” to what he called “both American and Chinese globalism.”
With the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan, and the subsequent power vacuum created in the country, Romanov said that the Russians didn’t “seize primacy” but instead gave it to the Chinese, creating new grounds for engagement between the Russia and India.
This power vacuum in Afghanistan created “a relatively unmanageable crisis, which can burst out of Afghanistan in a blast wave, [and] will be a difficult test for the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization],” said Romanov. “The situation was frozen by the Kremlin’s embrace of the Taliban.”
The CSTO is an intergovernmental military alliance of six post-soviet states: Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Romanov believes that American influence has survived in Afghanistan “through the rather influential Taliban” and that a “smoldering conflict may flare up again,” creating an internal crisis for both Russia and China.
“But since China gained dominance in this case, India accordingly lost it, so Moscow is trying to drag the game over to India and, accordingly, to itself, in order to simultaneously 1) weaken the Chinese position, 2) strengthen the Indian pro-Russia position, and 3) strengthen directly the Russian position itself, trying to sever some Western ties by taking the ‘levers’ into its own hands,” said Romanov.
He said Russia can gain leverage in the situation by putting the normalization of relations between India and China as a precondition for cooperation with Beijing.
“To paraphrase [Henry] Kissinger, New Delhi and Beijing should be closer to Moscow than to each other. India will be interested in cooperation with us: this will allow it to fulfill the tasks of enhancing its role in both East and West Asia,” said Romanov.