India pushing Russia to speed up delivery of missile defence system

NEW DELHI • India is pushing Russia to speed up the delivery of a missile defence system as its ties with China deteriorate following the worst military clash between the Asian nations in four decades.

The request comes as Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu in Moscow.

Mr Singh is there to attend Russia's Victory Parade today which commemorates the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II.

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe will also be present.

The Indian and Russian ministers are expected to discuss the India-China border tensions and New Delhi's desire to ensure an unimpeded and early supply of military spares from Russia, long one of the country's top defence suppliers.

Mr Singh wants to speed up the delivery of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile defence system - currently due in December next year - and the purchase of Russian-made jet fighters Su-30Mki and MiG-29, people familiar with the details said.

India and Russia signed the S-400 deal worth US$5 billion (S$7 billion) in 2018.

The missile system will provide heft to India's otherwise antiquated air defences, while the additional fighters will boost the capability of the Indian Air Force. It needs 10 more squadrons of fighters to supplement the 32 currently in operation, said the sources.

The United States has cautioned India against buying the S-400 system, saying the purchase would have a serious impact on Washington-New Delhi defence ties.

India's request has also potentially placed Russia in a difficult position regarding its own relations with China.

"It's a very important test overall of Russia's ability to balance its relationships amid growing dependency on China, which is becoming increasingly assertive and pushing its partners to choose sides," said Mr Alexander Gabuev, a China expert at the Carnegie Moscow Centre. Still, Russia will likely agree to India's requests because the latter represents a key market and an opportunity for Moscow to diversify its relationships in Asia away from a reliance on China, he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2020, with the headline 'India pushing Russia to speed up delivery of missile defence system'. Print Edition | Subscribe