By Li Hui
Indian media reported the postponement of the “2+2” US-Indian dialogue of defense and foreign ministers scheduled in Washington on July 6, citing “unavoidable reasons” on the American side. The dialogue had been postponed once before because the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired by Trump.
The second postponement came at a point when the US and India are in the midst of widening divergences, one of which is India’s plan to buy the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia.
The Russia-made S-400 is one of the most advanced air defense system. It can simultaneously engage up to 36 targets with up to 72 missiles at ranges of up to 400km. Such exceptional performance has captured the immediate attention of many international buyers. Meanwhile, Russia has been actively promoting the S-400 system, not only receiving several large orders, but also skillfully using its sale as an important tool to game with the US and change the geopolitical situation.
In South Asia, both India and Pakistan expressed the intention to buy the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia. In 2016, Indian Prime Minister Modi reached a commercial contract agreement with Russian President Putin to purchase the S-400 worth over $6 billion. But now, this huge deal contradicts with America’s sanction against Russia, so the US plans to exercise its “long-arm jurisdiction” and demands India to stop the purchase.
As a matter of fact, Russia, as the largest weapon and equipment supplier for the Indian military, has been engaged in a lasting game with the United States. Pakistan, India’s arch-rival neighbor, also expressed the intention to buy the S-400 from Russia, indicating Russia’s important position in South Asia.
Russia also used the sale of the S-400 air defense missile system to expand its influence and seek its own interests in the Middle East.
The bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar hasn’t been improved since they cut their diplomatic ties in June last year, and both countries hope to leverage the support from Russia, a country outside of the region, to check the hostile forces in the region.
The recent news about Qatar in talks to buy Russia S-400 system has made Saudi Arabia very uneasy, which has threatened to launch military attacks against Qatar. The arms trade has evolved into a diplomatic incident and may even trigger regional conflict.
Turkey is worth even more attention. As NATO’s only member state in the Middle East, Turkey, however, has escalating conflicts with the US and other western countries regarding Turkey’s constitutional amendment and election, the Syrian refugees and other issues.
As conflicts between Turkey and western countries continue, Russia saw the opportunity to improve its relations with Turkey. It tried to avoid any tension between the two countries and reached an agreement with Turkey last year to sell the S-400. Through this deal, Russia successfully drove a “wedge” among NATO allies and caused the US concern and dissatisfaction. It also gave Russia a vantage point in the geopolitical restructuring in the Middle East and enabled it to have a finger in the pie.
In summary, with the S-400 sale, Russia has definitely made a breakthrough in changing its regional strategic situation. The sales have not only provided Russia a huge financial gain, but also played an important role in helping Russia to improve the diplomatic situation and expand its strategic space after the Ukraine crisis.
Disclaimer: The author Li Hui. The article was published on the PLA Daily on July 12. It is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online.