On Thursday, October 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to India for an annual visit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is expected to include the signing of a five billion dollar weapons deal between the two countries. This would provide India with the S-400 air defence system, but may also result in US sanctions imposed on the country due to Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). India can fill out a waiver with the United States to avoid the sanctions, but there is no guarantee it will be approved. Putin and Modi will also be discussing the construction of another nuclear power plant in India, built by Russia. Despite the fact that India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), India’s largest nuclear plant is also currently being expanded by Russia, which is promoting nuclear growth in a non-signatory country and is therefore skirting on violating the NPT itself.
By Friday morning, Reuters reported that Modi and Putin had signed on the arms deal, as well as eight other pacts including the nuclear deal, despite US warnings. The leaders wasted no time moving forward with their alliance, which was strongly anticipated. A strategic affairs analyst based in Delhi, RR Subramanian, noted to the Agence France-Presse that “Russia is a time-tested friend. I am really glad some spine has finally been shown by India … It’s about time we… showed that we are not going to be pushed around by Washington.” This sentiment makes sense in context for the Indian strategist, as retired Commodore Uday Bhaskar of the Society for Policy Studies points out to Al Jazeera, because the United States’ domestic legislation is attempting to inhibit ‘significant’ trade with Russia. In general, states do not like being told who they can trade with and to what capacity, so it is understandable that India may be reluctant to abide by this act, yet it still attempted to fill out the waiver to engage in Russian trade. Bhaskar mentions that these actions will ultimately “test the resilience of the India-US bilateral,” especially if the US decides to move forward with its sanctions.
The sale of these weapons to India seems like it will cause far more issues than it is worth. It is possible that the addition of the S-400 air defence system may be enough to tip the scales and risk further escalation of the India-Pakistan conflict, which has been held back from all-out war in part due to nuclear deterrence. While it is positive that the United States was attempting to prevent the weapons sale, it is clear that it was not for the right reasons. The US is India’s second-largest arms supplier behind Russia, and also wants to keep close ties to build a stronger front against the increasing strength of China. While it is possible that India’s stance with the US against China, now armed with more sophisticated weapons, could prevent escalation through deterrence, it could also potentially lead to an arms-race, and is, at its roots, simply not a peaceful solution.
India is currently the world’s largest arms importer and seems to be in the process of upgrading its outdated systems. This would increase its defence capabilities against Pakistan as well as China, who was sanctioned by the US last month for purchasing the S-400 system from Russia. It is unclear whether the United States will impose sanctions or not, as they are not condoning the sale of Russian weaponry and intelligence, but are also looking to contain China through tighter ties with India. While the South-Asian state has had nuclear weapon capabilities for more than 40 years, it refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation. This seems to be more of an issue with the document itself, however, as the state has a no first use policy in place and has had consistently clean non-proliferation inspections through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nonetheless, when receiving aid from an NPT-recognized nuclear weapon state, it would be much more comforting to have a bind to that document.
The weapons deal signed between India and Russia raises a lot of tensions globally, especially with India, the US, Russia, China, and Pakistan. While India and Pakistan may stay away from all out war due to nuclear deterrence, this step still could serve as the tipping point for a proxy war in Afghanistan following United States departure from the country, according to former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf. While it is uncertain at this point what the US will do in response to this deal, they either risk losing their desired partner in containing China, or become inconsistent with the act they set in place that resulted in China’s sanctions in September. Regardless, India and Russia’s decision to move forward with this deal has the potential to create a large number of conflicts that otherwise may have been avoidable.