Putin to visit India, S-400 may be in tow
Putin’s visit will be preceded by the inaugural 2+2 dialogue of the defence and foreign ministers of India and Russia in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India next month for an annual summit is expected to coincide with the delivery of the first batch of S-400 air defence systems and will set the stage for the two sides renewing their military-technical cooperation for the next decade.
Putin’s visit will be preceded by the inaugural 2+2 dialogue of the defence and foreign ministers of India and Russia in Moscow. The dialogue, which has been held up by the busy schedules of ministers on both sides, will prepare the grounds for the summit, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
The first batch of S-400 systems is expected to be delivered by December, the people said. Putin is expected to be in New Delhi in the second week of December for the annual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with both sides looking at December 6 as the most likely date, the people added.
At the upcoming summit, India and Russia are expected to renew their military-technical cooperation arrangement for 2021-31 and sign several agreements in defence, trade and science and technology. One of the key agreements expected to be inked is the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS), which will allow militaries of the two sides to access logistics and support facilities at each other’s bases and ports.
India has signalled its commitment to long-standing defence ties with Russia by forging ahead with the $5.4-billion contract for five S-400 systems despite the US warning that the deal could attract secondary sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Several teams of Indian Air Force personnel have been trained in Russia to operate the S-400. India and Russia signed the deal in October 2018, and all deliveries are to be completed within five years.
The IAF will induct the first unit of S-400 systems at a time when India is locked in a standoff with China in the Ladakh sector, and the Chinese side has deployed two S-400 squadrons at Hotan airbase in Xinjiang and Nyingchi airbase in Tibet, across Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh respectively.
The induction of the S-400 systems will enhance IAF’s air defence capabilities, said Air Marshal (retired) Anil Chopra, director general of the Centre for Air Power Studies. “The mix of radars and missiles that will come with the S-400 will cover various height and range bands. It will bring an important capability upgrade with an air defence bubble of 400 km. Of the five systems ordered, four are likely to be deployed in forward areas to defend against aerial threats from China and Pakistan. One system could be used to defend vital industrial facilities,” Chopra said.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari also said in October his force is likely to induct the first unit of S-400 systems by the year-end.
The induction is taking place when India is looking at the creation of theatre commands to best utilise the military’s resources. The current theaterisation model seeks to set up four new integrated commands for synergy in operations – two land-centric theatres, an air defence command, and a maritime theatre command.
The India-Russia summit couldn’t be held in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This will only be Putin’s second foreign visit since the Covid-19 outbreak began – he travelled to Geneva in June for his first meeting with US President Joe Biden but skipped the G20 Summit in Rome last month. Putin’s upcoming visit to New Delhi reflects the importance attached by Russia to its relationship with India, the people said.
Developments in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover are also expected to figure in both the 2+2 dialogue and the summit. During a phone conversation on August 24, Modi and Putin agreed to create a permanent channel between national security adviser Ajit Doval and his Russian counterpart Nikolay Patrushev for consultations on Afghanistan. Both sides have not recognised the Taliban setup in Kabul and backed calls for the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan.