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Russian weapons to India are a chance to achieve air superiority over China

This post was published in Komersant. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, NEW DELHI, (BM) – Russia will accelerate the implementation of a key defense contract with India, which provides for Delhi’s delivery of five S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems [SAM], and will also intensify negotiations on the supply of 33 MiG-29 and Su-30MKI fighters to India.

The agreement to speed up military-technical cooperation with the largest buyer of Russian weapons was the main result of the visit to Moscow of the head of the Ministry of Defense of India, Rajnath Singh.

Delhi’s desire to receive Russian fighters and air defense systems as soon as possible is caused by the growing need to neutralize threats from China and Pakistan, which are carrying out accelerated modernization of their air forces.

As Indian military sources explained to Komersant, Russian weapons in the event of a conflict will deprive the enemy of a chance to achieve air superiority.

Fast track

The Thursday three-day visit to Moscow by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, his first deputy Ajay Kumar and other high-ranking military personnel ended on Thursday became the first overseas trip of the Indian official delegation after the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the main purpose of the visit was to participate in celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Victory, Rajnath Singh held a series of meetings and negotiations in Moscow in which Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation of the Russian Federation Dmitry Shugaev and the head Rosoboronexport Alexander Mikheev. On the eve of the visit, Bloomberg, citing sources in Delhi, reported that the Indian delegation would ask Moscow to expedite the supply of Russian weapons.

Negotiations confirmed this information. After meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Borisov, who came to her directly to the Metropol Hotel, where the Indian delegation stayed, the head of the Indian Defense Ministry did not hide his satisfaction. Without naming specific transactions, he made it clear that the goal was fully achieved:

“The discussion was very productive. I was assured that current contracts will not only be executed, but in many cases will be executed in a shorter time frame. All our proposals received a positive response from the Russian side.”

The contract for the supply of 21 MiG-29 fighters and 12 Su-30MKI fighters to India has not yet been signed, but the Indian side expressed a desire to conclude it in October last year [the total amount of the transaction, presumably, may be $ 650 million]. In turn, the contract for the supply of five S-400 air defense systems to India in the amount of $ 5 billion was signed in October 2018. At the same time, Delhi immediately made it clear that they would not refuse to acquire Russian air defense systems, despite pressure from Washington, which threatened to introduce punitive measures against India in accordance with the Law on Countering US Adversaries through Sanctions (CAATSA).

Last year, India transferred Russia the first tranche of about $ 800 million for the S-400 contract, and in March this year, Dmitry Shugaev, in an interview with Interfax, said that Delhi would receive the first S-400 system in 2021. However, now, after negotiations in Moscow, Delhi expects that the first S-400 system will be delivered to the country by the end of this year. Moreover, the contract as a whole will be completed in 2024 [it is assumed that the Russian side will supply India with one S-400 complex per year].

“If this scenario is realized, then we will see the first installation of the S-400 at the military parade on the occasion of the Republic Day of India, which will be held on the main avenue of the Indian capital Rajpatth on January 26 next year. This system will become our silver bullet against enemies,”an Indian military source told Kommersant.

In connection with the sharp aggravation of the situation on the control line with China in Ladakh on the eve of the Indian delegation’s visit to Moscow, a number of Russian and foreign media considered the Indian side’s desire to accelerate the implementation of arms contracts in response to the June 16 incident.

However, Indian sources of Kommersant indicate that the Delhi initiative has long-term strategic calculations associated with the need to maintain a changing balance of power at once on two borders – with China and Pakistan.

“After Pakistan acquired the US F-16 Block 52 fighters, and China reinforced its own fifth-generation J-20 fighter with its own design, the Indian Air Force was in a difficult situation. In the event of hostilities, a situation may arise when India will be forced to use its fighters simultaneously for both defensive and offensive purposes. And this is very difficult,” says the Indian interlocutor of Kommersant and adds: “The imbalance will be eliminated after the S-400 air defense system takes on the main role in protecting the airspace of India, allowing you to look deep into Pakistani territory and track enemy aircraft as soon as they are in the air, as well as monitor Chinese fighters, taking off from airfields along the Tibetan plateau. Thus, the S-400 will release our multi-purpose fighters to perform tasks such as striking ground targets, eliminating the need to conduct air battles with enemy fighters.”

According to Kommersant’s interlocutors in Delhi, three of the Russian S-400 systems, after receiving them by India, will be placed on the border with Pakistan and two on the control line with China [one system in the western and eastern parts].

At the same time, the S-400 will become a key element of the Indian air defense system, which consists of three parts and also includes Indian-made Akash anti-aircraft missile systems.

The test of Russian-Chinese friendship

The Chinese side has not officially commented on the planned acceleration of the implementation of Russian defense contracts with India. However, on the eve of the Indian delegation’s negotiations in Moscow, a comment appeared under the heading “Will India Test Russian-Chinese Friendship?”

In the Russian-language account of the People’s Daily newspaper (the official printed publication of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China) in the community “Society of Orientalists of Russia”. People’s Daily notes: “If Russia wants to soften the hearts of both the Chinese and Indians, it is best not to supply India with weapons at sensitive moments. Two Asian powers are Russia’s very close strategic partners.” Recall that earlier Beijing acquired six S-400 systems from Russia. The Chinese newspaper also refers to the June 23 publication of Kommersant, which refers to steps taken by India and China to de-escalate the control line in Ladakh.

“Obviously, Beijing is trying to influence Moscow’s decision to sell weapons to India. Earlier, in private conversations, Chinese diplomats and experts expressed dissatisfaction to Russian colleagues with Moscow’s military-technical cooperation with Beijing’s opponents, primarily with India and Vietnam. However, all these attempts can be perceived rather as trial balls, testing how much the Russian side yields to pressure on this issue,” Alexander Gabuev, head of the Asian program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, explained to Kommersant.

“It can be assumed that Chinese diplomats are also creating some kind of“ credit history ”and if in the distant future Beijing wants to try to put pressure on Moscow and seriously seek to curtail the Russian military-technical cooperation with Delhi and Hanoi, the argument will be made that this is a desire for strategic partners from The PRC did not arise yesterday,” the expert continues.

According to Mr. Gabuev, “the post of the Russian-speaking online team, People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, is the first attempt to influence the opinion of the Russian expert community using open tools of public diplomacy.”

“It is not known whether this step is the implementation of instructions from Beijing or the initiative of local employees who are realizing the leadership of the PRC to be more active and creative in upholding the interests of China in the international arena,” the expert adds.

“The Russian leadership is unlikely to follow the lead of the Chinese comrades. Although relations with China are the cornerstone of Russian foreign policy, Moscow clearly does not want to turn into a junior partner of China and sacrifice relations with other players. That is why relations with countries such as India or Vietnam are important because of narrow considerations of expanding the portfolio of export orders, and because of broader strategic considerations – the need to balance relations with Beijing by developing trusting contacts with other centers of power, especially Delhi. Until now, Moscow has rigorously followed this course, and it is unlikely that it will abandon it in the future,” summarizes Alexander Gabuev.

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