Nirmala Sitharaman hints at possible defence deal with Russia as Moscow pins hope on India making 'sovereign decision'

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has hinted that an agreement on purchase of Russia's S-400 Triumf missile defence system and other defence equipment might come through despite the talks of India reconsidering the deal owing to the sanctions imposed by United States.

Speaking to reporters, Sitharaman said that the negotiations on S-400 were in stages where a deal could materialise. On questions about the impact of US CAATSA sanctions on defence deals with some Russian defence manufacturers, Sitharaman said that India has a long history of dealing with Russia, hinting that India might be interested in going ahead with the deal.

"Negotiation on S-400 air defence systems has been on for a long while and it is at a stage where it can be finalised. We have a big legacy of buying defence equipment from Russia," ANI quoted Sitharaman as saying.

File image of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. PTI

File image of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. PTI

Meanwhile, Russia too expressed hope that India will make a "sovereign decision" in face of US coercion and sanctions.

Without naming anyone, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), flayed "western states" for using coercive tactics, including political blackmail and economic pressure on other nations to "retain their self-proclaimed status of 'world leaders'".

However, on the sidelines of the summit, he expressed hope that India will take a sovereign decision on defence deals that may possibly fall under US sanctions. "I understand that India will be taking sovereign decision (on) how to proceed and what kind of weapons it needs," he said at a news conference at the UNGA on Friday.

Asked by a reporter if the proposed $8.5 billion defence deal with Russia, which includes a missile defence system, that was expected to be signed next month during Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to India was on hold, Lavrov said: "I haven't heard anything about the timing, about postponement, about putting anything on hold."

In response to another question if Russia would be adding "checks and balances" to its defence deals with India in the light of the controversies over the purchase of Rafale jets from France, Lavrov said he was not aware of the allegations of corruption and added, "We participated in the deal for the delivery of that (but) we did not get it."

Six manufacturers, including Mikoyan MiG-35, competed for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender. The MiG-35 was eliminated in an initial round and Dassault's Rafale emerged the winner for the contract.

The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed last year by the US Congress imposes sanctions on some Russian companies as well as on their customers and this could impact India's defence deals with Russia.

India will need exemptions from CAATSA to buy the S-400 Triumf missile defence system as well as frigates and helicopters.

While India raised the issue during the recent 2+2 Strategic Dialogue between the defence and external affairs ministers of India and the US secretaries of defence and state in New Delhi, a categorical exemption is yet to be made.

When the Congress tried earlier this year to prevent Trump administration from granting exemptions, Defence Secretary James Mattis made an appeal citing India to allow the administration to exempt deals, and it finally prevailed. So the Trump administration continues to have the power to exempt India. Whether it will or not in terms of the Russian defence deals, remains to be seen.

With inputs from IANS


Updated Date: Sep 29, 2018 16:13 PM

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