Putin signs India military pact, despite US sanctions

(CNN) — India and Russia signed off on an agreement Monday to boost the two countries’ defense ties, despite continued uncertainty about the future of the US-Russia nuclear deal.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed what the Russian foreign ministry called a “a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement.”

Modi and Putin also signed a military agreement — designed to boost trade and increase cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces — during the two leaders’ six-hour visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra.

It wasn’t yet clear, however, whether the agreement was part of India’s response to the US imposing new sanctions on Russia. A draft version of the legislation would prevent anyone who bought hardware or services from Western firms sanctioned by the US on Russia, from importing, leasing or doing business with the equipment or services.

The US Senate last week passed the legislation by an overwhelming margin, with support from all four congressional delegations, and the House is expected to consider the measure soon.

But there are indications that China may yet act to counter any fallout from potential US sanctions.

According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement issued Friday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin accused Washington of “harming the international community and exposing itself to serious consequences for its irresponsible attitude towards China.”

China and Russia may now decide to forge closer ties with neighboring India, risking retaliation from the US, as the US is trying to team up with smaller, developing countries across the world to defend its global leadership and push back against China.

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, China and Russia warned Washington against resorting to sanctions on the issue.

“An illegal sanctions regime against (North Korea) would only create new problems and seriously violate the UN Charter, sovereignty and non-proliferation norms, and seriously undermine the UN’s efforts to resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” said China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi.

Deals for fighter planes and satellites

The pact with India lays out cooperation in the fields of cybersecurity, search and rescue, education, culture, health and disaster relief. The agreement commits the two countries to combat terrorism through intelligence sharing and collective control of travel to prevent terrorist elements from infiltrating.

India and Russia have deeper ties than usual, with Russia and China having held a joint military exercise, “Defend 2018,” during Putin’s visit to India last year.

The Indian government confirmed Russia was building its new Sukhoi, MiG-35 combat aircraft fleet at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, with the order expected to be worth $1.3 billion.

Russia also will supply India with a fleet of 10 advanced reconnaissance satellites — TRS-1000 — in what is seen as part of a New Delhi plan to develop its own space program.

The deal represents a significant challenge to the US, with the US launching an initiative, One Shot, to bring its satellites into space.

Many observers believe the agreement will result in a new race to make satellites, similar to that seen during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Modi’s visit to Russia comes at a time when the White House has recently been in turmoil.

The US President continues to face rising political pressure from inside and outside the administration. In recent weeks, Trump has been accused of unprofessional and even corrupt conduct, including being bad for the economy.

His response — including dropping the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Korean Peninsula in favor of a potentially dangerous military strike — has angered his most loyal supporters but has failed to assuage the rest of the country.

It was evident during Monday’s meetings that the US agenda for the talks will be low on India’s agenda, as relations with the White House were often fraught, and India did not want to upset Russia, a long-standing strategic partner.

Modi has kept India in a diplomatic no-man’s land of being a major player in the US decision making process, as it considers possible sanctions against Russia — something that would likely hamper efforts to upgrade India’s ties with the country.

Modi may see enhancing relations with Russia, and with Beijing, as preferable to causing friction with the US and creating a rift within the international community over Pyongyang.

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