Perizat RISBEK KIZI
The struggle between Russia and the United States for the Indian arms market is escalating. Thus, on November 14, it was announced, that Russia began to supply India with S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems in accordance with a contract concluded in October 2018. Earlier, on September 16, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said in an interview: “India may become the first foreign buyer of the S-500 after saturation of the Russian army with these complexes. In some cases, we sell to India what we don’t sell to other countries”.
The deal with Russia has caused friction between India and the United States as the latter passed legislation to impose sanctions on countries involved in defense deals with Russia. So far, the Joe Biden administration has not made any formal comments on what decision will be made regarding India. However, it is well known that this development worries the United States, as evidenced by the consistent pressure on New Delhi from the White House and the Pentagon.
Can the US impose sanctions?
The transfer of five Russian S-400 systems to India will be a serious test for the Indo-Pacific strategy of the administration of US President Joe Biden. The deal could force the US to impose sanctions, and the Biden administration could find itself in a difficult position, as India is a key ally of it in the region.
However, given the importance of relations with India against the background of the growing influence of China and the rivalry between the American and Russian military industries, the United States will not be able to sacrifice relations with New Delhi.
India is a key participant in all American plans to counter China; in particular, this is manifested in the concept of the Indo-Pacific region. Washington has spent quite a few efforts to include India in the anti-Chinese coalition Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – QUAD, which also includes Australia and Japan. In this context, the United States simply needs a strong relationship with India for the coalition to work effectively.
In turn, the imposition of sanctions will harm the US-Indian alliance and strengthen military cooperation between Russia and India. Second, it will greatly complicate the US containment of China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Reasons for increased military cooperation with Russia
Military-technical cooperation between Russia and India has a long history. India has long been a key ally of Moscow in Asia, enjoyed the support of the USSR during the Cold War, and after the collapse of the union remained the largest buyer of Russian weapons.
Recently, military cooperation with Russia has become a priority for India, due to tense relations with neighbors like China and Pakistan. On the other hand, India is well aware of its weapon dependence on Russia.
The marked strengthening of Sino-Russian defense relations in the form of joint exercises and military coordination creates vulnerabilities for India as the latter continues to rely on Russian weapons. First, in the event of border conflicts with China or Pakistan, China’s influence on Russia could force it to slow down or stop supplying spare parts and ammunition. Secondly, the acquisition of Russian systems, which China is also purchasing, could help identify and exploit weaknesses in India’s defense.
For now, it is not easy for India to mitigate these risks because sudden changes in procurement could cause Russia to ditch critical parts or service. Secondly, India now needs Russian support to increase its influence in resolving the Afghan issue.
If we proceed from the importance of US relations with India against the background of its geopolitical strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, then the decision to impose sanctions against New Delhi would be a big mistake for Washington. India, despite the pressure, is decisively ready to buy Russian military equipment based on its own interests. Therefore, most likely the United States will act differently, namely, it will build up its own military potential in India, in parallel with Russia.