At over 5,500 words and 68 paragraphs, the joint statement released after the summit meeting between PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin is probably among the longest joint statements ever released between India and any other nation. It spans an entire laundry list of sectors of cooperation. And as a bit of an anti-climax, tucked away in paragraph 45 is a single statement which says: “The sides welcomed the conclusion of the contract for the supply of the S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile System to India.” At over $5 billion, it was the biggest deal on the anvil during the visit.
Strangely enough, the deal was not among the eight exchanged earlier Friday after the bilateral meet between the leaders, leading to speculation that India had got cold feet at the last moment, given repeated US warnings that Washington would not take kindly to the sale of the air defence system and that New Delhi should not feel entitled to waiver from the sanctions imposed on Russia under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. Nor was there any mention of the three India-made MiG-21s which we were supposed to gift Putin.
Russia is India’s largest defence supplier and a long-term strategic partner. But the relationship had started showing signs of unease following the ever-tightening strategic embrace between India and the US. Apart from the loss of revenue, Moscow was concerned that Americans might get access to the high-end Russian equipment given to India, including the nuclear-powered submarine. Before the summit, experts from both sides kept stressing that they wanted to take the relationship beyond the traditional security and defence partnership, and the joint statement refers to several new commercial initiatives in the fields of commerce and culture. Unlike the new-found love with the US, the India-Russia relationship has endured the test of time. Friday’s summit is but a small attempt to ensure that it endures the turbulence the global environment faces today.