Why the Russian S-400 missile defence deal matters to India

In October 2018, India had signed a $5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems.

S-400 surface-to-air missile

Russia has begun the delivery of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems to India, according to a senior Russian official.

Russia's Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Dmitry Shugaev told Sputnik news agency that the deliveries are going on as planned.

The development comes as both sides prepare for a visit to India by Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 6 for a bilateral summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The supplies of the S-400 air defence system to India have started and are proceeding on schedule," Shugaev said.

In October 2018, India had signed a $5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, despite a warning from the former Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.

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Russia's S-400 air defence system

Earlier, two US Senators had urged President Joe Biden to waive sanctions against India over its purchase of Russia's S-400 air defence system.

US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn had sent a letter to the US president urging him to waive CAATSA sanctions against India.

The Indian government had ordered the purchase of five S-400 surface-to-air missile systems during the bilateral summit in New Delhi two years ago.

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Biden administration's concern

The Senators said that while they shared the Biden administration's concern regarding the purchase of the Russian missile but transactions between New Delhi and Moscow were declining.

 

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S-400 can track radars and airborne threats

Russia's S-400 system missile defence system can perform multiple tasks as several countries have expressed their interest in buying due to its varied capabilities.

The S-400 can reportedly be assembled in 5 minutes through a mobile command vehicle making it a deadly force capable of being fired from any terrain.

It has the capability to track radars and airborne threats with a range of 400 kms.

The US wanted to sell the anti-ballistic missile defence system named Terminal High Altitude Area Defense(THAAD) to India, however, India's defence needs required the S-400 system.

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Turkey-Russia deal

In 2019, Turkey had agreed on a multi-billion-dollar purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system that led the former Trump administration to impose sanctions against the Erdogan regime last year.

The US government also blocked Turkey's plans to purchase 100 next-generation US F-35 planes even as Erdogan demanded compensation.

Turkey's president wants pay back of at least part of the $1.4 billion advance payment the country had made to the US for the F-35s through the delivery of older-generation F-16 fighter jets.

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Erdogan's dilemma

The US recently warned Turkey of further risks to bilateral ties if it buys more weapons from Russia, after US countermeasures over its purchase of the S-400 air defence system.

Turkey which is a NATO member had defied US warnings in 2017 to buy the S-400 air defence system. Russia in fact could sell the defence system to Belarus which is facing multiple sanctions from Western countries.

President Lukashenko had expressed an interest in buying the Russian defence systems with a view to placing them on his country's border with Ukraine.

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F-16 fighter jets for Turkey?

In December 2020, the US had blacklisted Turkey's Defence Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.

Democratic and Republican US lawmakers had urged President Biden not to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and said they were confident Congress would block any such exports.

In a letter to Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 11 members of the House of Representatives cited "a profound sense of concern" about recent reports that Turkey may purchase 40 new Lockheed Martin F-16s and 80 F-16 modernisation kits.

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CAATSA scare

The US had earlier imposed sanctions on Russia under the stringent CAATSA. The law also provides for punitive action against countries purchasing defence hardware from Russia.

The US had warned India that it might invite US sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

However, with the Biden administration's focus on the Indo-Pacific, the S-400 row may be settled amicably for both parties as the US Senators asked the Biden administration to "continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment".

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India-US relations

Indian Air Force chief air chief marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari had said that the country is likely to induct the first batch of Russian S-400 missiles by the end of this year with the delivery expected as per schedule.

As the US looks to counter China and post-AUKUS, the Biden administration has noted India's security concern as Quad is set to play an increasingly important role in India-US relations.

India's defence deals with the United States has also been picking up for the past few years which is likely to give the country leverage to engage with US officials on the contentious Russian defence deal.

(Photograph:Reuters)

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