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Putin To Visit India To Seal Weapons Deals

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to India on December 6 for a summit expected to be dominated by energy and weapons sales.
Putin’s visit to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be only his second trip outside Russia since the coronavirus pandemic, after a June summit in Geneva with U.S. President Joe Biden. The trip comes as India has begun taking deliveries of Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missile system under a $5.4 billion deal, potentially putting New Delhi in the crosshairs of U.S. sanctions. A similar purchase by NATO ally Turkey led to U.S. sanctions and Ankara’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The United States hasn’t decided whether to grant India a waiver for Russian arms purchases under CAATSA, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on November 23. Conversations with India are ongoing “in the context of a defense relationship that is meaningful to us, that is important both to the United States and India, including in the context of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Price said. India appears to believe it will be granted a waiver as it expands ties with the United States with the aim of countering China. Junior Defense Minister Ajay Bhatt told parliament last week that the government was aware of potential U.S. action but will make “sovereign decisions” based on the country’s defense needs. “The S-400 is a potent system in terms of its operational capability to provide a continuous and effective air defense system to a very large area,” Bhatt said. “With the induction of this system, air defense capability of the nation will be significantly enhanced.” The world’s largest democracy is a member of the Quad group with United States, Japan, and Australia that is emerging as a bloc to contain Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region, making New Delhi a key partner for Washington. India views China as one of its biggest security threats and the two nuclear-armed powers skirmished along their disputed Himalayan border in 2020, leading to dozens of casualties on both sides amid an ongoing standoff. India plans to place the S-400s in the northwest of the country, near the disputed borders with China and rival nuclear power Pakistan. The S-400s will be operational early next year and expanded as the system is progressively delivered by 2023, the Times of India reported. Russia is India’s largest weapons supplier, accounting for 23 percent of Moscow’s global arms exports between 2016-20, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). But the share of India’s arms purchases from Russia has fallen from 70 to 49 percent between the period 2011-15 and 2016-2020, according to SIPRI.

The drop comes as New Delhi seeks to modernize and diversity away from Soviet-era and Russian military equipment by expanding defense purchases from France, Israel, and the United States.
Modi has also pushed his trademark Made in India program in the defense sector, making some weapons deals contingent on technology transfers and domestic production. Still, India is lining up some major arms purchases from Russia including naval ships, Sukhoi Su-30 and MiG-29 fighter jets, and 400 more T-90 tanks, India’s ambassador to Russia, Bala Venkatesh Varma, told TASS news agency last month. The production of more than 700,000 AK-203 rifles will also be done in India, he added. Putin will be joined by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and energy giant Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters last week that Russia and India will sign 10 agreements, including on energy. "We attach great importance to developing relations with India," Ushakov said. It is expected that the sides will also discuss the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines. India, which is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has authorized Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine and exports it. For India, Russia is also a key player in Central Asia and Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover in August. India and Pakistan have long sought to counter each other in Afghanistan, where China is also making inroads with the new Taliban rulers. “India and Russia, I must emphasize have particular interest in the impact of Afghanistan on the broader region so therefore our existing consultations have been further strengthened, including at the security services level,” Varma, India’s ambassador to Russia, told TASS.

With reporting by AFP, TASS, and Times of India

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