The timeframe for the supply of S-400 missile defence systems by Russia to India remains on track with the latter having made the first payment of $850 million for the big-ticket defence deal worth more than $5 billion, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The payment, amounting to about 15% of the total deal, was made in September though a special mechanism worked out by the two sides to avert attracting sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of the US, the people cited above added.
The people declined to go into details of the mechanism, given the sensitivity of the issues involved.
Over the past few months, India and Russia focused on alternative payment mechanisms to overcome the impact of potential US sanctions, including trade through a rupee-rouble mechanism (in which payments are made in rupees and roubles) or payments in euros for military hardware.
“There had been some concerns about the delivery schedule for all the five systems being delayed to 2025. But with the payment having been made, the first system is expected to be delivered in 16 to 18 months,” said one of the people cited in the first instance.
India and Russia had signed a deal worth an estimated $5.4-billion for five S-400 systems during the annual summit of leaders of the two countries in October last year. Russian officials said then that the first system was expected to be delivered by 2020 and that all deliveries would be completed in a five-year period.
Washington has repeatedly pressured New Delhi not to go ahead with the S-400 deal or other purchases of military hardware from Russia, which continues to account for about 60% of India’s military hardware. US officials have also expressed concern the S-400 could capture electronic signatures of American-origin military equipment and aerial platforms used by India and compromise them.
However, following a meeting with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in October, external affairs minister S Jaishankar defended India’s “sovereign right” to buy weapons and said the country won’t be told by any state to not buy military hardware from Russia. Indian officials have also said the country meets the criteria for a waiver from US sanctions on the S-400 deal and that New Delhi can’t “wish away” its long-standing defence ties with Moscow.
The US has also pressured Turkey to scrap a deal for S-400 systems, with President Donald Trump saying after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that the acquisition of such sophisticated weapons “creates some very serious challenges for us”. The S-400 issue prompted the US to eject Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter programme.
In a recent letter to Erdogan, Trump warned he would have to impose sanctions on Turkey over the purchase of the S-400 systems.
When Roman Babushkin, the deputy chief of the Russian mission in New Delhi, was asked during an interaction on Tuesday if Trump’s threat could have implications for India, he replied: “Turkey is a clear demonstration that national interests are more important than satisfying the interests of some other countries. This is the case for India as well.”
In an apparent reference to efforts to overcome potential US sanctions, Babushkin added, “India needs the best air defence system and Russia will provide it. It depends on bilateral interests and we need to be safe from outside pressure. We are working with India on that.”