Oct. 15, 2016 9:41 a.m. ET
BENAULIM, India—India and Russia announced defense and energy deals Saturday as the two countries sought to renew their decades-old bond after a recent drift in their ties.
The announcement came at a time when New Delhi is forging closer defense ties with the U.S. and Moscow has taken steps to build relations with India’s rival neighbor Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in the coastal state of Goa, where they have traveled for a Brics summit in which leaders of China, Brazil and South Africa will also participate.
The two sides announced that India would buy S-400 antiaircraft defense systems, among Russia’s most sophisticated weaponry, though no details were disclosed on the value of the deal. The two countries also agreed to jointly produce Ka-226T light multipurpose helicopters used primarily for reconnaissance and the transportation of troops and to build four naval frigates for India.
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India is seeking to modernize its Soviet-era military equipment and spur domestic defense production as it faces spiraling tensions with Pakistan and tries to catch up with militarily superior China with whom it shares a disputed border.
Last month, New Delhi signed a long-pending contract to buy 36 Rafale jet fighters from France’s Dassault Aviation SA for $8.7 billion.
On the energy front, Indian officials Saturday announced a deal for Russian state-controlled oil giant PAO Rosneft and two others—Netherlands-based commodity trader Trafigura Group Pte. and Russian investment fund United Capital Partners—to take over India’s Essar Oil Ltd. The deal is valued at close to $13 billion including debt, one person familiar with the matter said.
Saturday’s pacts “establish the special and privileged nature of our strategic partnership,” Mr. Modi said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Mr. Putin. “They also lay the foundations for deeper defense and economic ties in the years ahead.”
Indian officials have tried to allay concerns in Moscow about India’s defense collaboration with the U.S. Mr. Modi said Saturday in Russian that “an old friend is better than two new friends.”
Meanwhile, Russian officials have sought to play down the country’s first-ever military exercises in Pakistan earlier this month that set off alarm bells in New Delhi and undercut Mr. Modi’s efforts to isolate Islamabad diplomatically on the issue of terrorist groups operating on its soil.
India blamed Pakistan for an attack on an Indian army base last month that killed 19 soldiers, which Pakistan denies.
Messrs. Modi and Putin stressed “the need to deny safe havens to terrorists” and “to have a strong international legal regime built on the principle of zero tolerance for direct or indirect support of terrorism,” a joint statement said.
The meeting comes at a time when long-predictable geopolitical alignments are in flux. India, which leaned toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War and relied largely on Russia for military equipment, has in recent years shed its long-held reluctance to forging a closer defense relationship with the U.S.
It has bought combat helicopters and anti-submarine aircraft from U.S. companies, opened up its military bases to provide logistics support for U.S. forces and leveraged Washington’s diplomatic muscle to win membership of a missile technology control group that could enable it to access drone technology.
To be sure, much of India’s military hardware remains of Soviet or Russian origin, from jet fighters to submarines. And while India is working on some ambitious projects with the U.S., it is also moving cautiously.
Indian officials have, for instance, pushed back against suggestions by their U.S. counterparts that the two countries conduct joint patrols in the Indo-Pacific.
Russia, a one-time adversary of Pakistan, has also shifted its South Asia policy. In addition to the military exercises with Pakistan—whose once-robust alliance with the U.S. has frayed—Moscow has also agreed to sell it four Mi-35 attack helicopters and build a $2 billion natural-gas pipeline there.
Asked about the Russia-Pakistan ties, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said Saturday: “We trust Russia. The friendship we talk about assumes that Russia won’t do anything that is not in India’s interests.”
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