Putin, Modi alter balance of power in South Asia
If Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s belligerent policies toward Pakistan were not enough, Russian President Vladimir Putin is hammering the final nail in the coffin of the balance of power. On Friday, India signed a $5 billion deal with Russia for five S-400 missile systems. By 2020, New Delhi will acquire the Russian integrated air defense systems, which typically consist of eight launchers, 112 missiles and the associated command.
Their radar can detect hostile projectiles at a distance of 600 km, shoot them from a distance of 40-400 km, and cruise at a blistering speed of 17,000 km per hour. Moscow has already leased nuclear-powered submarines to India’s navy, besides co-developing the BrahMos cruise missile and transferring technology for production of Su-30MKI fighter jets.
Though the proportion of India’s military acquisitions from Russia have shrunk over the years, its reliance on spare parts remains enormous. Being one of the top spenders on military hardware, New Delhi is too significant for the Kremlin to let go.
Besides bringing South Asia to the brink of a nuclear war, this latest sale is a reminder that New Delhi and Moscow remain strong strategic partners. Within weeks of dialogue between the US and Indian defense and foreign ministries, Russia is reminding the White House of the limits of its influence.
The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) obliges Washington to impose stringent sanctions on countries engaging in “significant transactions” with Russia’s military. China has already been slapped with sanctions for purchasing the S-400 system.
Will the US impose sanctions on India, a country it has been promoting as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China? New Delhi did not opt for a similar American or European system in its bid to diversify its arms purchases. Indian officials have been justifying the purchase from Russia under the pretext of being able to match China’s capability of denial of airspace.
By selling the S-400 to both China and India, Russia earns vital capital and leverage. Already, it has managed to sour Turkey’s ties with NATO. The US has chosen to halt the transfer to Turkey of F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets. If Ankara cannot have both the S-400 and F-35, India will not either. Already, the Modi government has withdrawn from Russia’s planned Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet program.
Despite enormous economic strains, Islamabad will consider various options to recalibrate the balance of power.
India’s defiance of the US is not limited to strengthening military ties with Russia. Reuters reported that New Delhi will buy 9 million barrels of Iranian oil beyond Nov. 4, when nuclear-related US sanctions come into effect. Iran is India’s third-largest oil exporter. Besides, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Davol participated in last month’s Regional Security Dialogue in Tehran with his Russian, Chinese, Afghan and Iranian counterparts. Interestingly, Iran did not invite Pakistan.
India continues to tax the limits of US forbearance. If Russia, China and India continue to do business with Iran, US sanctions will not be life-threatening for Tehran. The pro-India lobby in the Trump administration may not be able to win the country multiple waivers for acting against US strategic interests. So far, the conflict of interests has been suppressed by the White House’s hostility toward China. Sooner or later, the US will impose harsher tariffs on exports from India.
If the pro-India lobby prevails and punitive sanctions for doing business with Russia and Iran are averted via conditional waivers, Washington’s designs to challenge Tehran’s intrusive and disruptive regional policies would become handicapped. And the prospects of an Indian pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, especially in Kashmir, would soar. Despite enormous economic strains, Islamabad will consider various options to recalibrate the balance of power.
Pakistan will look to refine and expand its cruise missile and MIRV programs, keeping in mind the well-researched vulnerabilities of the S-400 and India’s nuclear submarine. The anti-US lobby may also be shaken by the rude awakening that Russia cannot be seen as Pakistan’s strategic ally for selling it four-decade-old military equipment.
Iran and India have identical economic and strategic interests, so Islamabad must strike a balance in its relations with Beijing and Washington. Pakistan can forge healthy ties with the US if it refrains from seeking financial or military aid.
— Naveed Ahmad is an investigative journalist and academic based in the Gulf, with a career in writing on diplomacy, security and governance. Besides other honors, he won the Jefferson Fellowship in 2000 and the UNAOC Cross-Cultural Reporting Award 2010. Twitter: @naveed360