A file photo of Russia and the US flags Photograph:( AFP )
Russia has been a critical source of military equipment and the US is crucial for safeguarding strategic interests. In maintaining one partnership, India has been careful not to damage the other
New Delhi is in a dilemma. Russia is India's biggest defence partner and the US is a key partner in the Indo-Pacific. So far, India has carefully built an independent relationship with both countries. But as the friction between the Kremlin and the White House increases, India is walking a diplomatic tightrope.
Kremlin, a cold war ally and White House is an Indo-Pacific partner.
One has been a critical source of military equipment and the other is crucial for safeguarding strategic interests. In maintaining one partnership, India has been careful not to damage the other.
It has enjoyed an independent relationship with both Moscow and Washington.
This has been the state of play for several years. But the US-Russia acrimony is entering a new phase.
A new president is in the White House and he is trying to distinguish himself from his predecessor and assert America's place in the world.
Words have been flying like missiles and in this growing friction between the two super-powers, India faces the real test. Which way will it tilt? So far, New Delhi has successfully struck a balance. In February, India's foreign secretary travelled to Moscow for a two-day visit. In March, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin visited India.
Now, the US climate envoy John Kerry is in New Delhi and so is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. India is actively engaged with both countries but one bargain hangs above India-US ties like the sword of democracies.
The S-400 deal! New Delhi's decision to purchase this anti-aircraft missile system from Russia has raised the risk of US sanctions. America has imposed sanctions on Turkey for a similar deal with Russia.
The delivery in India is due in December and the Pentagon has not indicated that it won't impose sanctions on India.
On the other hand, Moscow's biggest worry is India's growing security ties with the US. Prime Minister Modi attended the first-ever Quad summit last month. Signs of discomfort have surfaced at Kremlin.
Russia along with China is proposing a new regional security bloc aimed at countering any US-led blocs.
It already seems to be laying the groundwork.
Lavrov will be visiting Islamabad after his India visit. This will be the first such visit by a Russian Foreign Minister in nine years. So, the challenge before India is quite complex and it comes at a crucial time.
Right across the Himalayas, Chinese still pose a significant threat to India's security. New Delhi will have to choose wisely. It will have to ask serious questions about American reliability in the face of this potent threat and align its approach in the Indo-Pacific in a way that does not damage the Delhi-Moscow dynamics. As the stakes go higher, the balancing act will only become tougher for India.