Late last week, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin paid a visit to India as part of his tour of Indo-Pacific countries. He went to New Delhi alone after having visited Japan and the Republic of Korea together with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. And not for a day, as was the case with Tokyo and Seoul, but for three, which already spoke of the visit's importance to Washington.
The explanation is rather simple: Joe Biden's administration is going to knock an anti-Chinese alliance together in the IPR, a kind of "eastern NATO", with Washington deeming it crucial to earn support of its allies as represented by Tokyo and Seoul that largely support US policy in the region. However, a military alliance to contain China in the IPR is next to impossible without India, a powerful party in the region, which won't explicitly align with Washington, unlike Tokyo or Sydney. With India, there is more than meets the eye. Especially given its relations with Russia being a privileged strategic partnership New Delhi hardly wants to upset.
At the same time, it is worth noting that apart from the longtime friendship, India's relations with Russia are based on military and technical cooperation. It's no secret that Moscow remains the key supplier of cutting-edge weapons to India. As of mid-2020, some two-thirds of the country's armed forces were equipped with Russian-manufactured weapons. It is important to stress that Moscow's flexibility as regards technology transfer or joint production helps employing New Delhi's ambitions to turn India into one of the largest exporters of reasonably priced but top-tier weapons.
By the way, according to the Military.direct website, India ranks the world's fourth in terms of military power after China, the United States and Russia. The published index is based on factors like the military budget, the number of military personnel and reservists, the number of Air Force and Navy units, nuclear forces, and troops equipment. Premised on this index, the world's most powerful Chinese army has 82%, the United States has 74%, Russia has 69%, and India has 61%. In many ways, the Indian army's power is precisely underpinned by Russian-made weapons. No wonder that New Delhi considers its military and technical cooperation with Russia one of the pillars for their strategic partnership, with the entire long-standing and abiding friendship with Moscow being India's major security driver.
Speaking about the supply of Russian weapons, one may particularly note that the Indian Air Force fleet mainly comprises the Su-30MKI fighters assembled in India from Russian components. The country's ground forces are armed with a variety of Russian T-90 tanks, while the Russian-Indian BrahMos company produces supersonic cruise missiles. A factory to produce the 200-series Kalashnikov assault rifles is also under construction in India. Despite US resistance, 2018 saw New Delhi sign a $5.43 billion contract for the supply of the S-400 Triumph long-range air defense missile weapon systems, with the first deliveries due in October this year.
In this regard, India seems to have "taken no notice" of the 2017 American CAATSA law (Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act) aimed to stop the sale of Russian weapons and Iranian oil in international markets. New Delhi just informed Washington in advance that acquiring the S-400s is an urgent condition for ensuring national security. And that's it. By the way, India does not consider the purchase of American Patriot air defense systems over their characteristics' incomparability with those of the Triumph.
It should be noted that the fact of supplying the S-400 is of particular concern to Washington. In this regard, it is small wonder that the Pentagon chief also touched upon this relevant issue during his Indian talks with that country's Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister Subramanian Jaishankar. According to the American media, Austin sought to convince the Indian side to abandon the purchase of Russian air defense systems. But he did not even discuss sanctions against India caused by this contract, as Austin himself said following the talks: "India has not acquired an S-400 system yet, so there would be no reason for sanctions to be on the table." Note that the head of the Pentagon carefully glossed over India's acquisition of Russian weapons systems during his talks in New Delhi.
Now that the United States is extremely interested in an alliance with India to confront China, Washington does not consider exerting much pressure on New Delhi, like it did, for instance, over Indonesia's intention to purchase the Su-35, fighters or Turkey's planned purchase of the S-400. In India, which is very sensitive to external sharp power and pressure, steps to this effect cannot but cause an uproar and disturb America's plans to involve New Delhi in its anti-Chinese games.
In this regard, the United States is actively offering New Delhi its weapons in an attempt to squeeze Russia out of the Indian arms market. For example, Austin's proposals to buy a new batch of combat drones from the United States and to place an order for 150 fighter jets so that India could come up with China in the number of its aircraft, as border tensions with it have not yet receded, is cold news. Washington has already provided New Delhi with drones under a leasing package, but the Americans' hopes of selling their slightly upgraded F-16 fighter jets, renamed the F-21 for India, turn out to be a false dawn.
Washington seems to realize that India itself is one of the world's centers of power and will be guided by its national interests alone. Indeed, New Delhi has long been pursuing the so-called policy of "strategic autonomy" and will unlikely change its foreign policy based on sovereignty and non-alignment to appease the United States and yield to its dictation. Therefore, Washington will probably take a cautious low-key approach to New Delhi. Otherwise, the US will never manage to turn India into a lever of pressure on China. So far, New Delhi is clearly in no hurry to immerse into Washington's anti-Chinese policy, nor is it ready to break its good relations with Moscow.