Asia Minute: India’s Deal with Russia Raises Questions for Washington

Oct 8, 2018

Wheeled self-propelled launcher of "Buk-M2" surface-to-air missile system on the military exhibition on the 65th anniversary of Kapustin Yar missile range, Znamensk, Russia.
Credit Leonidl / Wikimedia Commons

The United States is facing a diplomatic complication this week with one of its allies in the Asia Pacific. It follows a top-level meeting on Friday — and the outcome remains uncertain.

India signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Russia last week, and there may be consequences from Washington.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in India at the end of last week for a brief summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Friday, the two leaders agreed India would spend more than 5-billion dollars for an anti-aircraft missile system. It would vastly expand India’s capability to track and shoot down combat aircraft.

But the United States has warned that countries will face economic sanctions if they do business with Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors. That’s designed to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine — and for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

India is looking for a waiver under that policy, and it’s unclear if it will get one.

Russia still supplies most of India’s military hardware — a history that began with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

But India has been diversifying its sources of weapons systems.

For example, Lockheed Martin and Boeing won contracts to replace old Soviet MIG fighter jets. And other U.S. defense contractors are lobbying for more business in India.

Credit Architect of the Capitol / aoc.gov

Initial U.S. reaction to the Russia deal came from the embassy in New Delhi — saying the U.S. does not want to hurt the military capabilities of its “allies or partners.”

Expect a more detailed reaction, and a decision on those sanctions, to come from Washington.