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Modi tells Putin won’t go back on $4.5 billion defence deal, gets reassurance on Pakistan

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Russian President Vladimir Putin assures PM Modi that Moscow’s relationship with Delhi is far, far better than anything with Pakistan can ever be.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘will not walk back’ from India’s intention to buy the S-400 air defence systems from Russia, even as president Vladimir Putin assured the PM during his day-long visit to Sochi Monday that Moscow’s relationship with Delhi is far, far better than anything with Pakistan can ever be.

After spending six-and-a-half hours out of eight in ‘one-on-one’ conversations with the prime minister at his Black Sea resort, Putin capped his day-long wooing of Modi by coming to the airport to bid him goodbye.

“The meeting went off very, very well,” official sources told ThePrint, admitting that no one had expected this last gesture of friendship. They pointed out that the Russian president had not exhibited this kind of care with any of his foreign guests over the past week – neither Syrian president Bashar-al Assad, German chancellor Angela Merkel nor Bulgarian president Rumen Radev.

A thrilled Indian delegation is nevertheless weighing the Sochi outcome with care, aware that it is as much in Putin’s interest to signal renewed warmth with a nation of India’s size and economic strength.

Delhi’s determination to ignore the Trump administration’s sanctions on Russia, through the wordy Countering America’s Adversary Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) legislation which came into force in January and which threatens to sanctions all third countries – like India, Indonesia and Vietnam, who deal with Moscow in the intelligence and defence spheres — is certainly a big boost to Putin’s own strategy to diminish his former Cold War enemy.

India will pay $4.5 billion to Moscow to buy S-400 Triumf air defence systems – the agreement was initialled in 2016, but final price negotiations are still to take place.

“India has no intention of walking back from the commitment it has made to Moscow on the S-400,” the sources said.

Clearly, the Russian president went out of his way to lay the red carpet, even dispensing with interpreters on the boat ride with the PM. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted telling Tass news agency that the talks were “very intense.”

Putin realises that India slipped out of Moscow’s ambit as Washington wooed it with the nuclear deal over the last decade. He feels he has a chance to coax Delhi back into its embrace – even as Delhi appears unwilling to deal with the daily moodiness of Trump and unable to handle the invincible rise of the Chinese.

Delhi’s big concern, Russia’s growing intimacy with Pakistan, is also believed to have been addressed between the two leaders. Putin is said to have assured the PM that Moscow’s interest in Pakistan is limited to its influence with terror groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the hope that it can persuade them not to expand their activities in neighbouring Central Asia and Russia.

Modi and Putin are said to have discussed way to ‘work together to circumvent’ sanctions that the US proposes to impose on third countries who trade with Iran. Oil exports to India will be hit sooner than later, and both agreed that the mechanism of an Asian clearing house is temporary,  just as it was last time around in 2012 when payments were made. Barter is being contemplated.

For the time being, Delhi hopes that the US will allow waivers on all Chabahar-related expenditure, because the port will become an alternative to Karachi port for Afghan goods. India is expecting to spend $500 million on the port.

Certainly, Putin has had a good week. Tomorrow he will receive French President Emmanuel Macron in Sochi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in St. Petersburg in a few days from now.

Modi returned Putin the compliment just before he took off from Sochi, telling a group of students, “I was with my friend for the whole day today. When he spoke about the kids he was emotionally involved. I saw dreams in his eyes. I saw a different person. I saw a Putin who was different from the president.”

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