US President Donald Trump’s imperious way of threatening to impose economic sanctions on those countries that defy his authority by trading with countries that they are barred from dealing with by the US is deeply regrettable. The strategic deal that Russia has now struck with India for supply of US$ 5 billion S-400 ‘Triumf’ surface-to-air missile system would predictably come under Trump’s radar. But evidently, at the talks that were held between India and the US when the US Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence met India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman in New Delhi last month, India’s rationale and dire need in the face of a Chinese-Pakistani nexus was duly explained in all its ramifications.
A sovereign nation of India’s size and stature can ill afford to be dictated to on who it should buy its weapon systems from. With general elections in India just a few months away, no government can capitulate to a foreign power on decisions that fall within its domain. Yet, the Modi government wanted to avoid rubbing the US on the wrong side too hard, hence the attempt to appeal to US’ self-interest in containing China. By Modi government’s reckoning, the S-400 ‘Triumf’ missile system is a worthy weaponry to acquire to equip itself better against foreign attacks. It forms part of the strategic partnership that India has forged with the Russians with which it has had strategic relations for decades. There can be little doubt that the Russian anti-aircraft missile system is superior to its American counterpart.
The S-400 Triumf is an anti-aircraft system which can shoot down ballistic missiles at a range of 60 kms. It has several launchers, command and logistics vehicles and can track as many as 300 airborne targets and can destroy 36 of them in one go. While India will receive the first S-400 squadron within 24 months of signing the deal, the rest will be delivered in the next four to five years. Indo-Russian relations could have floundered if India for some reason had failed to strike this deal. It is a test of nerves for the Modi government especially if the US had flexed its muscles over the deal but India could not bow down meekly to the US and then pretend to be a burgeoning Asian power. That the deal reached fruition is an index that Modi was ready to stick his neck out. He knew only too well that if he were to succumb on Iranian oil due to fears of US sanctions and on the deal with Russia on S-400s again on US arm-twisting, his own reputation of being able to stand up to Trump and to the US in general would have been in jeopardy. The US reaction to the S-400 deal is yet to fully unfold. All eyes are on Washington to see how things unfold.
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