India will press Russia to consider expediting the delivery of the S-400 Triumf anti-missile system during defence minister Rajnath Singh’s three-day visit to Russia starting Monday. The urgency comes amid heightened tensions along the India-China border.
Moscow is believed to have delayed delivery of the $5.4-billion system to December 2021 due to Covid-19 constraints. India had completed large payments for the system last year.
China, which also enjoys strong defence ties with Russia, has already acquired the S-400 system from its northern neighbour and this fact may have added to India’s concerns. Besides, sources said, armed forces have been told to be ready for all eventualities. The government has begun the process of filling up gaps in defence preparedness, making good pending purchases, shoring up supplies and improving inventory profile based on worst-case scenarios, including a two-front fight.
According to people aware of the details, Russia appears to have bunched the delivery of India’s S-400 with a couple of other countries.
New Delhi is keen to explore if a delinking of delivery is possible and a faster schedule can be worked out given the historical military relationship between the two countries.
Reliability of supplies is the other key issue on top of Singh’s agenda. There are two parts to the segment — one, speed up availability of spares for existing Sukhoi and MiG fleets and second, gain an assurance that Indian supplies will not be impacted in changing political environment.
ET has learnt that this issue was discussed in detail at the highest level after India lost 20 soldiers to violence on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. At that point, it was felt that a quick reach-out to Russia was necessary for defence preparedness.
While the Moscow Victory Day parade was a planned event, there were doubts of a ministerial-level representation because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, after consultations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was decided that Singh must undertake the visit as that was the best opportunity to engage the Russian government at this critical juncture.
Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe is also likely to be present at the event. Beijing has been pushing Moscow to deepen defence cooperation and obtain access to high-end Russian technology, especially in making jet engines. China, in fact, has been quite keen to develop its defence industry on the back of Russian capabilities.
Singh is slated to have a separate bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu during his visit. Much of these issues will discussed at length with him, especially on hastening deliveries for weapon systems and spares. He is also to meet deputy prime minister Yury Borisov, who also deals with military and aerospace affairs.