PM Narendra Modi’s Christmas trip to Moscow has not been able to bring home the expected crown jewels from Russia as Moscow did not yield to give S400 missile defence system and Akula class nuclear submarines although other goodies was agreed upon for sale like nuclear reactors and Hydrocarbons etc. PMO has not and possibly will not disclose the reason even if it may have been able to gauge the pulses of Kremlin in this regard. It may however be well assumed that price is not the factor as purchase of equivalent equipment from the West would be much costlier with fare more stringent conditionalities, although not necessarily more effective.
Moscow up to 2007 never hesitated selling strategic defence equipment to India. Russia’s Aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya) was converted into a separate class of vessel with improvements such as phased array radar, extensive electronic warfare installations, and an enlarged command & control suite, etc. During the glory days of the Soviet era and beyond, MIGs, Sukhois & missiles have remained the mainstay of IAF.
But after EU and US applied sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s economy started tottering, and it was left with only one powerful ally in international politics namely China. China signalled its intentions and signed an important deal with the Russian company Rosneft for half a trillion dollar for the supply of energy products over the next twenty years right at the time when sale of Russian oil and gas was in jeopardy due to sanction and falling prices. With this timely & friendly response from China the Russian economy started looking up as it received the much needed boost it was desperately looking for. During the post sanction period the entire world including India remained virtually tacit & mute spectators, but, on the other hand the Chinese grabbed the opportunity with open arms and helped Russia during its time in need.
Moreover, Russia also received China’s crucial support in the UN when the West tried to pressure it over its Syrian intervention. The West showed complete diffidence when Russia started its Syrian air strikes against ISIS and other anti Assad militant groups, and the same status quo is still maintained by the West. No country including India (a strategic friend) gave any overt support to the Russians during this period, but, China tactfully deployed its naval forces in the Mediterranean as a mark of explicit support to Russia. Russians showed their gratitude by volitionally selling the world’s most advanced air defense system the S-400 ‘Triumf’ & the formidable Sukhoi Su-35 fighter to China that too without any preconditions.
Hence, in the existing scenario Russia honours China’s likes and dislikes far more than any other country including India’s even if it means a loss of a couple of billions of dollars worth of lucrative deals. China in its own interest would undoubtedly not like Russia supply such important strategic weapons to India, since India’s defence procurement is solely aimed at China and Pakistan, its all weather friend. Pakistan may have persuaded China to pressure Russia over the sale of S-400 system and Akula II Subs to India
Therefore, to India’s dismay Sino-Pak nexus does not auger well at least in the current situation to acquire hi-tech & strategically important defence equipment from Russia. India will be forced to resort to Western equivalents even if has to shell some more dollars and also comply to some exasperating conditions & pacts such as Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA).
Therefore, until & unless the international political scenario changes from its current flux, Russia will remain a hot potato to handle.