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India upholds strategic autonomy principle despite close ties with USA

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NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s crisp reply at the presser following 2 plus 2 dialogue on India’s defence purchases from a variety of sources reflects that Delhi pursues an independent foreign policy as well as defence policy based on its principle of strategic autonomy.

When asked if India is planning to buy more weapons from the U.S., like F-18 jets for its navy, and would Delhi distance itself from Russian suppliers, including for the S-400, Singh replied, “What I would like to say, that whether it’s a question of buying or selling arms, there are negotiations that happen with different players. It depends on the negotiations that take place. So who we will buy from and who we will sell to will depend on the negotiations that take place.”

High-placed sources told ET that Singh’s reply without directly referring to India’s defence ties with Russia is reflective of core principle of Indias foreign policy — strategic autonomy. India had made it clear to the USA in the past that it will go ahead with S-400 missile defence system purchases from Russia besides other defence platforms based on its national security interests.

When the Defence Minister visited Moscow in June days after the Galwan incident, he requested to expedite supply of S-400 systems in the backdrop of tensions along the LAC. Russia is reportedly considering the request favourably. There are reports that Moscow has delayed supply of additional S-400 systems to China. Russia has been a political player in the Sino-Indian stand off indulging in back channel diplomacy to reduce tensions. Singhs two visits to Moscow this year also helped to expedite supplies of additional fighter jets and other defence platforms.

Experts on international affairs who did not wish to be named was of opinion that the query posed to the Defence Minister has been typical of a section of international media that raising doubts on India’s reliance on Russian defence platforms and equipment which according to some estimates still constitute 60-70 per cent of Indian armoury even as shares of other players have increased in last two decades.

The above mentioned experts also pointed out that a formal alliance or treaty with USA is not on the cards even as Delhi and Washington moved closer to coordinate its position to secure free and open Indo-Pacific region. Simultaneously India is exploring partnership with Russia in Indo-Pacific region including investments in Far East Russia and energy bridge besides a trilateral involving Japan.

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