New Delhi: There is no need to get petulant about US sanctions against Russia that put a question mark on Indian acquisitions of key Russian weapons, including the S-400 Triumf air defence system. The matter is unlikely to be resolved at the upcoming joint meeting of the Indian and US foreign and defence ministers. The Indian side simply does not have the authority to take decisions because Narendra Modi does not delegate. The US side would be a little better off but not much. While the US cabinet secretaries of state and defence do carry heft, they would still have to deal with the mercurial Donald Trump who likes to be seen to be calling the shots. And Trump with his “America first” nationalism is unlikely to take kindly to India seeking to defy the United States, although at a personal level, he has no quarrel at all with Russia and especially its strongman, Vladimir Putin.

But in a sense, the matter may be even beyond Trump. To be precise, the sanctions are sought generically to be levied against countries viewed as adversaries of the United States. This also includes Iran. India is hopeful that its investments and interests in Chabahar would get a special waiver while it is less sanguine for a similar benediction to India-Iran trade in petroleum products, etc. The Indian foreign minister made a defiant statement that India accepts UN sanctions alone. Would that stand the heat of Washington? The Narendra Modi government is not exactly known for courage and fortitude in the face of US threats. Nevertheless, you do not recklessly show the red rag to a Major Power.

The Indian aim ought to be to mitigate US displeasure with India because this country simply cannot give up on the old and close relations with Russia and Iran. India’s military dependence on Russia cannot be overstated. Disastrous and unwise as this is, India cannot be expected to meet its defence requirements indigenously for a long time to come. Besides arms supplies, Russia was a friend and occasional ally of India for much of the Cold War and even up till some years ago, when new geopolitical complications and orientations caused it to drift closer to China and, at a remove, Pakistan. Breaking off with Russia under US pressure would be the last straw, and no Indian government could afford that. Besides, Trump is so neurotic that stable US-India relations are just not possible till he occupies the White House. With Iran, there is another critical consideration besides geopolitics and geo-economics. It is a Shia power. India has to be even-handed on the Shia-Sunni question.

All the same, India cannot choose the path of confrontation with the United States over Iran and Russia. India has to engage in wide spectrum diplomacy with the United States to get it off its back. The White House is the obvious place to commence but there are huge risks there with the sort of person Donald Trump is. So along with Trump, Congress and its powerful committees have to be strenuously engaged. India has done this prior and on other matters. India has bipartisan support in Washington and that is a plus factor that should be built on. There is a good chance that the United States would be willing to be convinced if the Indian government puts its best foot forward. It requires diplomacy of a high order and god knows what is left of it in the four years of Narendra Modi.

Looking ahead, a lot will depend on Robert Mueller’s verdict on the Russian investigations. If he makes out an impeachable offence against Donald Trump through obstruction of justice or another felony, all of the United States -- and a good part of the world -- would be thrown in turmoil. Trump will fight back, but he will be weakened, which could create a new constellation of power in Washington which may not necessarily be easy to deal with. And since Russia would be held squarely guilty of meddling in the US presidential election, India would find few backers for its continued defence ties with the Kremlin. On the other hand, if Mueller clears Trump, there will be even more Trump neuroticism to contend with, although Vladimir Putin will no longer be pariah. Putin could then serve to soothe US anxieties over Indo-Russian arms trade.

The short point is anything can happen. India has to be prepared. It has to draw up a full list of issues where compromise is possible and where it is not. From there, arguments and positions can be built. In any case, there is no cause to demonize the United States. Indian diplomacy is being put to a harsh test. It has overcome worse before. In a low moment, one has to think of Jaswant Singh, although such doyens are no longer available in the ruling party.