Sochi summit: India turns to old ally

Sochi : Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting the President of Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at Sochi, Russia on Monday.(PTI Photo/PIB)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘informal summit’ with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Sochi took place at a time when US President Donald Trump’s moves vis-a-vis Russia and Iran have put huge obstacles in the way of India and Russia conducting their relations as they choose. The US has imposed the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Russia, Iran and North Korea. This has serious implications for India’s trade with these countries. Section 231 of this law mandates secondary sanctions on those who engage in transactions with Russia’s military and intelligence sectors. This means that if India buys military hardware from Russia it could attract US sanctions, too. Although Russia’s share in India’s defence purchases has reduced over the past decade, Russia remains a key military partner. CAATSA is likely to impact India’s purchases. The two countries are in the final stages of discussions over India’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 Triumf air defence system, a $5.5 billion system that the Indian military believes is vital for India’s defence preparedness. India is reported to be seeking a waiver on CAATSA from the US, so that it can go ahead with the S-400 purchase as planned. However, it is not just about the S-400 deal. India’s defence hardware is overwhelmingly Russian and it needs to buy spares and complementary systems that only Moscow can provide. CAATSA and Trump’s sanctions on Iran following his decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, will impact India’s energy security. Energy-surplus Russia can help India tide over this crisis as well. These issues were reportedly discussed at the Modi-Putin meeting and hopefully the two leaders found a way to continue doing business with each other without having to bow to diktats of other countries. An important takeaway from the Sochi Summit, was the decision to put in place a Strategic Economic Dialogue between India’s Niti Aayog and Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development to identify synergy in trade and investment.

This is Modi’s second ‘informal summit’, the previous one with Chinese President Xi Jinping having taken place at Wuhan three weeks ago. An informal interaction between the Indian and Chinese leaders was necessary and useful as it came just months after the Doklam crisis. The summit enabled Xi and Modi to break the ice through their personal intervention, rather than relying on formal dialogue.

Although India-Russia relations have cooled somewhat, especially with Putin’s growing proximity to Pakistan, ties are not that troubled to require an ‘informal summit.’ There is merit in bilateral relations being conducted through the use of established protocol and procedure. Resorting to ‘informal relations’ frequently would encourage deal-making and reduce its value in times of crisis.

 

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Sochi summit: India turns to old ally

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