India Goes Ahead With Russia Missile Buy in Face of U.S. Sanctions Threat

By Rajesh Roy (Wall Street Journal)

Oct. 5, 2018 8:31 a.m. ET

The $5 billion deal was signed Friday during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to India’s capital

NEW DELHI—India moved ahead with the purchase of air-defense missile systems from Russia, defying the threat of U.S. sanctions.

The $5 billion deal was signed Friday during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to India’s capital for an annual bilateral meeting. He and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t mention the deal during a news conference, but a joint statement issued on their behalf confirmed it had been done.

“The sides welcomed the conclusion of the contract for the supply of the S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile system to India,” said the statement, issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The delivery of five of the systems, touted as the world’s best, is expected over the next two years, according to an Indian government official. The deal signals India’s efforts to repair relations with Russia and keep its arms suppliers diversified.

“We have an unmatched relation with Russia, which we will cement further,” said Mr. Modi.

Washington has threatened sanctions on those doing big deals with Russia’s defense industry, to punish Moscow for attempting to meddle with U.S. elections. India hopes for a waiver, in recognition of its growing importance in the geopolitical balance the U.S. is trying to create in the region.

“The waiver authority is not for a blanket waiver. It is transaction-specific,” Jinnie Lee, a spokeswoman for U.S. Embassy in Delhi, said Friday. There are strict criteria, she added, and “we cannot prejudge any sanctions decisions.”

A waiver for India could raise doubts about the seriousness of Washington’s campaign against Moscow. Just last month the U.S. sanctioned China’s Equipment Development Department for buying Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters and S-400 missiles from Russia.

In recent years, India has increasingly turned to the U.S. for military equipment, including maritime-patrol aircraft and attack helicopters.

But Russia has long been India’s biggest military supplier, accounting for 62% of its arms imports from 2013 through 2017, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates, and 79% over the five preceding years. And India, which faces potential threats from Pakistan and China, is one of Russia’s biggest customers. The nearly $2 billion in Russian arms it bought last year was around 13% of Russia’s global total, according to Russian defense think tank CAST.

In a further effort to tighten ties, India and Russia have set a goal of $25 billion in overall bilateral trade by 2025, up from around $10 billion in 2017. Among the agreements signed Friday was one calling for the two countries to work together more closely in sectors such as railways, fertilizer and energy, and a Russia pledge to help India with a human spaceflight program.

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