The two sides announced that India would buy S-400 antiaircraft defense systems, among Russia’s most sophisticated weaponry, though no details were disclosed on the value of the deal. The two countries also agreed to jointly produce Ka-226T light multipurpose helicopters used primarily for reconnaissance and the transportation of troops and to build four naval frigates for India.
India is seeking to modernize its Soviet-era military equipment and spur domestic defense production as it faces spiraling tensions with Pakistan and tries to catch up with militarily superior China with whom it shares a disputed border. […]
Indian officials have tried to allay concerns in Moscow about India’s defense collaboration with the U.S. Mr. Modi said Saturday in Russian that “an old friend is better than two new friends.”
In addition to the defense deals, the two countries finalized a $13 billion energy deal for a group of investors led by the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft to buy India’s Essar Oil.
The pacts signed in Goa have already fueled speculation that India and Russia are revitalizing an alliance that has drifted apart in recent years. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed that message, saying that the agreements “establish the special and privileged nature of our strategic partnership.” Both sides certainly have something to celebrate. The advanced S-400 air defense systems have been excitedly described by Indian defense analysts as a game-changer, providing India new capability to counter drones, ballistic and cruise missiles. And the oil deal will give Russia a larger foothold in a critical growing hydrocarbon market.
But for all the talk of a vital partnership, the deals signed by Putin and Modi are more transactional than transformative. Russia will always seek out partners who are willing to buy its wares, but that does not mean acquiescing to their priorities in other areas. As we noted the other day, despite diplomatic outcry from India, Russia went ahead with its military exercises in Pakistan last month. And at Goa, where India sought a BRICS declaration that would name and shame Pakistani terror groups, Russia showed no inclination to push India’s line, instead favoring China’s broader and non-specific condemnation of terrorism.
To the extent that it can expand lucrative business opportunities with India, Russia will do so, but that does not mean Moscow is eager to go to bat for New Delhi at the risk of alienating Beijing. Going forward, don’t expect Russia to be joined at the hip to India: as always, Putin is seeking out opportunities where he can find them, and keeping his options open.