India’s defence minister visits Moscow in a sign of their growing strategic relationship

India’s defence minister visits Moscow in a sign of their growing strategic relationship

Indian defence chief Nirmala Sitharaman begins a three-day visit to Russia today to attend the annual Conference on International Security

president_vladimir_putin_rtx1zzht_1000

Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shipenkov

Indian defence chief Nirmala Sitharaman begins a three-day visit to Russia today to attend the annual Conference on International Security and meet counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

Top of the agenda is the conclusion of a long-pending S-400 missile defence system but she’ll also receive an offer of 21 MIG-29 fighter jets.

India’s strategic relationship with Russia risks raising eyebrows in Washington, particularly given the record of incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton. Mr Bolton sees Russia as a threat to US interests, particularly in Syria, and could pressure New Delhi to downgrade ties with Moscow. Bolton has demonstrated willingness to bear against Indian interests in the past, denying the subcontinent’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat in 2005.

India’s relationship with Russia is effectively a transactional military relationship. Obtaining the S-400 gives India the same defensive capabilities that China had in last year’s Doklam border dispute. Despite increasing military cooperation between New Delhi and Washington, the US is unlikely to supplant  Russia as India’s major arms supplier in the near-term. The bonus offer of more MIG fighter jets attests to the strength of the India-Russia relationship. India is likely to maintain relations with both as per the traditional Indian hedging strategy.