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PM Modi to shift India’s top weapons supplier from Russia to US

India intends to shift its top military supplier from Russia to the US, New Delhi’s ambassador to Washington has said, citing national security and military modernization among Prime Minister Narendra Modi's top priorities following his re-election.

Speaking to US-based CNBC news on Thursday, Ambassador Harsh Shringla admitted that “there has been a tradition of dependence on defense equipment from Russia.”

The envoy referenced latest figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) to point out that in the five-year period ending in 2018, India’s purchase of weapons from the US has surged by over five times while imports from Russia were cut by more than half.

“If you go by SIPRI figures, in the block year 2008 to 2013 we imported 76 percent of our defense items from Russia. In the next five-year block, from 2013 to 2018, this came down 58 percent and in the same period our imports from the United States increased by 569 percent,” he said.

“So that itself tells you that, when we have a choice … we are obviously diversifying our purchases,” Shringla further underlined, noting that 10 years ago, India – currently the world’s second-largest arms importer and fifth-largest economy — did not have as many options.

According to the SIPRI, Russia still remains India’s top supplier of weapons, with the United States holding the second spot.

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The increase in US arms deals comes as countries such as India that maintain major arms deals with Russia are still subject to US sanctions under President Donald Trump’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

New Delhi is currently at risk of Washington’s sanctions following its agreement last year to purchase Russia’s S-400 air-defense missile system in a deal worth $5 billion.

File photo of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

Russia’s S-400 system — a mobile, long-range, surface-to-air missile system — was introduced on the world stage in 2007. Its top competitors are US-built Lockheed Martin’s THAAD, or terminal high-altitude area defense, system and Raytheon’s Patriot system.

This is while some 13 countries have expressed interest in purchasing the S-400. China, India and Turkey have already signed deals to buy the missile platform. Beijing is in the process of receiving its final shipment of the S-400 system. Turkey — a NATO ally — is also slated to receive its S-400  systems next year and is expected to have the system ready for operation by 2020.

The development comes as Modi is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the upcoming SCO summit on June 14-15 in Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek.

The two leaders are expected to chart out way forward on a number of contentious issues, including China’s green signal to list Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Xi is expected to visit India later this year for the second edition of the informal summit. 

While the meeting would be held in the backdrop of Sino-US trade war and suggestions for closer Sino-Indian economic cooperation, unresolved boundary dispute, huge trade deficit, China-Pak-Eco-Corridor and Beijing’s opposition to India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) remain challenges in mutual ties. 

Besides trade protectionism, Afghan situation and global oil supplies after re-imposition of US sanctions against Iran will be key areas of discussions between Delhi and Beijing in the coming months. 

Modi is also expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the SCO Summit.

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