New Delhi: Who is running India’s foreign policy? Russia? Has the country outsourced its geopolitics to the Vladimir Putin regime? Unhelpful as United States’ secondary sanctions may be that apply to sensitive strategic trades with Russia and Iran, India has to devise its own sovereign mechanisms to deal with them. It is scandalous that the Russian ambassador to India avers that the S-400 Triumf deal will proceed as usual notwithstanding US president Donald Trump’s cryptic comments about it. Is he reflecting the view of the Narendra Modi government? Is it prepared to expose India to secondary sanctions when the Indian economy is in decline and manifests no signs of recovery?

Talk of Non-Alignment in the context of US secondary sanctions is rubbish. The basic condition for Non-Alignment was the prosecution of the Cold War by the United States and Soviet Russia. The old ideologically-founded Cold War no longer exists. Liberal democratic ideology won the Cold War as it were, and it now faces new challenges from two authoritarian states which are more Right than Left, namely Russia and China. Authoritarianism cannot be supported least of all by India, and the perils of opposing the United States in the present time are enormous. If trade with Russia and Iran invites US secondary sanctions, the Indian economy will be further crippled. Engaging the United States on sanctions is the need of the hour, and the government simply cannot proceed on the assurances reportedly given to the Indian national security advisor who is, in any case, neither an economist nor a trade expert. This matter can only be handled by a ministerial-level delegation. India is playing with fire tempting US secondary sanctions. From statements emerging from Washington, the United States, including the Trump White House, is hardening its stance on Iran and Russia. India is further risking US displeasure by contracting for Iranian oil supplies in November after sanctions kick in. It is far from clear how India expects to get away when sanctions against Russia and Iran form the fundamentals of US foreign policy to which Donald Trump and the US Congress are irrevocably committed.

It is curious that nobody is advising Russia and Iran to mend their ways. Possibly Iran is a victim of administration change in the United States but its revolutionary violence in the region against Sunni power and its visceral hatred of Israel feeds into Donald Trump’s revulsion for the ayatollah state. To Trump’s credit, he has offered unconditional dialogue to Iran which has been rejected out of hand. Even before full-scope sanctions apply, Iran is tottering. Its economy is in a shambles; ministers have quit under pressure without assuaging public anger against rising prices and shortages; mass demonstrations have erupted all over Iran; and Iran has rather unwisely challenged the sanctions in the international court which Washington belittles at every opportunity. Iran may not technically be making nuclear weapons, but its nuclear-capable missile tests during the operation of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal was highly provocative and did nothing to dissuade Trump from scrapping the deal when he took office. India’s oil and gas requirements are critical but it would be jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire aligning with Iran and provoking secondary sanctions. It will profoundly damage the Indian economy.

The case against Russia is more open and shut. Never having recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the security state led by Vladimir Putin used the earliest recoveries from resource exports to expand territorially and regain international power. Its intervention in Syria was originally meant to plug the gap from Obama’s dithering in respect of fighting the ISIS, but it soon reduced to propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime despite all its atrocities, including waging chemical warfare against its own citizens. Its territorial expansions have included the annexation of the Crimea and de facto control of eastern Ukraine; and nearly all the newly independent countries on its western borders feel acutely threatened to seek NATO membership and NATO armed cover. Nor is Putin’s Russia in a happy state with the economy being stagnant and the regime manifesting no progressive vision. Meanwhile, the dictator’s personal popularity is plunging, If Russia were to have free and fair elections tomorrow, Putin would be ousted. Lastly and fatally is the Putin regime’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election and in other European national polls and the attempted murder of a defector spy in Britain.

This is not to suggest that the US campaign against Russia and Iran are without flaws, and that Donald Trump has been eminently reasonable on sanctions. India, however, does not have the international weight to stand in judgement of the United States which is the principal driver of the world economy. This is the age of economics and markets. Russia cannot contribute to the growth of the Indian economy in any meaningful way. National security is important, but in the nuclear age, it is difficult to make a sensible argument that India is sunk without the Triumf. Armed forces may obsess with conventional weapons but political authorities cannot lose perspective. If India suffers an economic collapse on account of sanctions, it would leave little to defend. The Narendra Modi regime lacks commonsense. If it possessed some, it would have told the Russian ambassador to hold his peace.