Indian Envoy Visiting Moscow as India Pursues Missile Deal with Russia

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS group leaders sumit in Fortaleza, Brazil, on July 16, 2014. Leaders of the BRICS group of emerging powers ( Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met today …
MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

India’s foreign secretary will visit Moscow for two days starting Wednesday as part of New Delhi’s efforts to re-establish close relations with Russia, its traditional ally.

“[Indian] Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will pay an official visit to Moscow on February 17-18 at the invitation of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

“The foreign secretary will hold the next round of India-Russia foreign office consultations with Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov, during which the two sides will review the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including the forthcoming high-level exchanges,” India’s foreign ministry added.

The visit takes place amid the United States’ recent objection to India’s planned purchase of five units of the S-400 air missile defense system from Moscow for an estimated $5.5 billion.

The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump had urged India to abandon the deal, asserting that New Delhi “did not have a wide waiver from a 2017 U.S. law aimed at deterring countries from buying Russian military hardware,” Reuters reported on January 15.

The U.S.’ opposition to the deal “is unlikely to change” under the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, which has “promised an even tougher U.S. approach towards Russia,” anonymous sources told Reuters last month, though Biden has presented a far more conciliatory tone towards Moscow than Trump.

New Dehli signed the S-400 deal with Moscow in October 2018. It made the first payment towards the purchase – about $800 million – in 2019 and is expected to receive all five of the systems by the end of this year.

Indian authorities claim they need the long-range surface-to-air missiles to counter the military threat posed by China; the two Asian giants have been engaged in a border standoff along their unmarked Himalayan border since last summer.

“India and the U.S. have a comprehensive global strategic partnership. India has a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said about the S-400 deal on January 8.

“India has always pursued an independent foreign policy. This also applies to our defense acquisitions and supplies which are guided by our national security interests,” Srivastava added.

India’s military sent its first military team to Russia last month for training to operate the S-400 air defense system. Russia’s ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev, described the departure of the Indian military team to Russia as a “remarkable occasion” that would usher in “a new stage in our strategic partnership.”

The Indian military team arrived in Russia sometime in late January and had begun training to operate the air defense system by February 3, the Russian military reported.

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