India won't back out of buying Russian Air Defence System S-400s: Pankaj Saran

The buying of the long-range missile system has come under a cloud amid warnings from Washington of possible sanctions and that it could adversely affect the transfer of US military technology to Indi

NEW DELHI: India and Russia have made "significant progress" in the negotiations on the purchase of the Russian Air Defence System S-400 and New Delhi won't back out of the deal despite US sanctions against Moscow, Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said on Friday.

He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in their informal summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi had discussed the procurement of the advanced missile system.

"Military-Technical cooperation between India and Russia was discussed during the meeting between the leaders. We are committed to all our agreements in this sphere, including the purchase of S-400," he said in an interview with news agency TASS.

The buying of the long-range missile system has come under a cloud amid warnings from Washington of possible sanctions and that it could adversely affect the transfer of US military technology to India.

Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee, said last month that there was a "lot of concern in the US, in both the Administration and [US] Congress over the S-400 system."

Asked whether pressure from the US would influence the negotiations on the contract, Saran, who was recently appointed Deputy National Security Advisor, said, "India has a long history of military-technical cooperation with Russia based on trust and mutual benefit. There is no change in the approach of India to our partnership in this field."

Probed further about the timeline of signing the agreement, Saran said, "I would not like to fix any time-frame. I can only say that we have achieved significant progress in the negotiations."

Earlier this week, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that "the CAATSA [Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act] cannot impact the India-Russia defence co-operation."

Saran also refuted reports that India has pulled out of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) joint project.

"I can only say that the talks are going on, as a result of which there is better understanding of each other's priorities and plans for the future."

India and Russia are expected to hold their 19th annual bilateral summit in October.

On aspects of bilateral relations, Saran said one of the challenges is lack of adequate attention to the economic component of the partnership.

Before the annual summit, he said, the two sides will have a Strategic Economic Dialogue between the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia and the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog.

"This is a new initiative which was agreed upon during the summit meeting in May. Unlike Inter-Governmental Commissions where practical problems are resolved, in the framework of this dialogue, economic policy priorities of both countries, macroeconomic issues, strategic priorities for bilateral cooperation, including agriculture, finance, infrastructure, small & medium business will be discussed."

He said various Inter-Governmental Commissions, including on Trade & Economic Cooperation and Military & Military-Technical Cooperation along with their sub-groups would meet before the annual summit.

Also, the first India-Russia Innovation and Start-up Summit is expected to take place this year.

India and Russia are collaborating in setting up the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh.

Asked whether Moscow and New Delhi are considering more third country joint projects, Saran said, "the answer is yes. Both sides are of the same opinion that they can work together in third countries in various fields including Nuclear Energy and Oil & Gas sphere. The talks are presently in a preliminary stage."

The envoy described the Modi-Putin summit in Sochi as "historic" and said that the reason for this unscheduled meeting was that both sides wanted to exchange opinions on key global and regional issues including development of the situation in Afghanistan, Syria and Iran as well as to discuss matters of mutual interest.

"Today relations between India and Russia are important not only for our two countries but also for the region and the whole world.

And we would like to build a multipolar world where India and Russia will contribute to global stability," he said.

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