The ultimate goal of Rajnath Singh, Jaishankar’s Russia visit — move Moscow away from Beijing
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Russia and a stopover in Tehran indicates something is changing.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar described the talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov as “excellent” that reflects the “Special and Privileged Partnership” between the two countries. And Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Russia and a stopover in Tehran indicates something is changing, especially because Jaishankar also followed the same route. New Delhi is attempting to forge a new regional alliance and Moscow is slowly appearing to move away from Beijing.
Deepening defence ties
In the wake of heightened tensions between India and China, Russia has agreed to speed up the supply of 33 fighter jets, a deal signed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi “warmly congratulated” Russian President Vladimir Putin on the constitutional reforms allowing him to continue to be number one in political hierarchy till 2026.
According to Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical cooperation (FSVTS), India has ordered for a huge $14.5 billion worth of defence equipment between 2018 and 2019, including the $5 billion purchase of S-400 air defense missile system. All this, in spite of the serious threat of sanctions from the US. Besides the supply of Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 1135.6P/M) guided-missile frigates to the Indian Navy, and other ammunitions to the Air Force and Army, the India-Russia deal inked by PM Modi and President Putin last year includes greater engagements in energy and shipping sectors as well that will take the bilateral trade to about $30 billion by 2025. After the US, Russia is the second-largest defence exporter of the world, a status not likely to be altered by Beijing in the near future.
Despite New Delhi’s diversifying basket of defence purchases, Russia’s defence exports to India still accounts for 58 per cent of our total defence imports and is likely to almost double in the next few years. This will be more than Russia’s share of defence exports to China by the year 2030. From 2012 to 2016, India imported 68 per cent of its defence equipment from Russia while China imported 57 per cent. But from 2016 to 2019, the Russian arms export to China went up to 76 per cent.
Except India, Russia has no other major defence equipment buyer, especially in the region. Much to the discomfort of the domestic ‘comrades’, Russia is, by and large, a regional power now, with limited influence in the rest of the world.
During his visit, Rajnath Singh lauded the ‘steadfast support’ provided by Russia in response to India’s defence and security needs. Notwithstanding the stark reality of geopolitics, in which Russia no more enjoys the power of the Cold War era, New Delhi values Kremlin’s friendship highly. Importantly, it is necessary to wean Russia away from the ongoing China-Iran-Russia partnership.