New Delhi: Engaged in the general election, India is likely to have overlooked the new strains in relations between the United States and Russia and China and the US. Sooner rather than later, however, their effects will be transmitted to India. The most immediate casualty, one could foresee, is Russian sales of the S-400 air defence system to India, which are yet to be paid for. Indian officials have made brave to say India is not Turkey, which is being compelled by the United States to forgo its contracted purchases of the same system. Turkey, as last reported, is buckling under US pressure. There is nothing really that gives India extra immunity. The S-400 may yet be a bridge too far.

It’s all rather started with Donald Trump’s exoneration by the Robert Mueller inquiry into Russian meddling in the presidential election which brought Trump to power. There is no collusion between Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin or none at any rate that Mueller can prove with evidence to a jury. The Mueller inquiry with its potential to open the way for Trump’s impeachment was weighing down the US president. With the fear of impeachment gone, Donald Trump can become more assertive abroad, something which entails lesser costs than domestic policies like the “wall”, which has run into fierce Democratic Party opposition.

Going after Russia would send a message to US voters that Donald Trump was a victim of Democratic Party witch-hunting and that he and Putin were never in cahoots. Which is why immediately after winning a reprieve from Robert Mueller, Donald Trump has gone tough on Russian military involvement in Venezuela on the side of the discredited regime of Nicolas Maduro. Asked at a White House press conference, Donald Trump minced no words when he said, “Russia has to get out.” Would the US military intervene to effect that outcome? Out in the South American boondocks, Putin for once may be apprehensive about running out of time, but leaving is not so easy either because Russian investments in Venezuela run into billions of dollars.

The United States appears to be on a stronger wicket to prevent Russia from deepening defence ties with Turkey. Impressed with Russian air defences in Syria which indubitably strengthened the position of the Bashar al-Assad regime, the Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ordered the Russian S-400s ignoring US and NATO objections. Since Turkey was to receive F-35 fighter jets as part of the NATO package, the United States made deliveries conditional on Turkey reneging on the S-400 deal. With both F-35s and S-400s plugged into Turkey’s air defence network, the US fears that Russia could access top secret F-35 features through a back loop. Going with Russia, Turkey stands to lose billions as a partner in F-35 production in addition to straining ties with NATO. The Donald Trump administration will also likely retaliate to S-400 acquisitions by sanctioning the Turkish economy. Pummelled in the recent local elections, Erdogan has no stomach to pick up a fresh quarrel with Trump. The last time he did so, the Lira crashed.

The United States is not just baiting Russia; it has opened an altogether new front against China, calling it out for human rights abuses of Uighurs demanding separation from China. After the declaration of the trade war with China, this appears a second strategy to get Beijing. For long, Beijing has used its economic power to suppress world -- and especially world Muslim -- opinion on the Uighur crisis. Uighur separatism represents a bigger problem for China than the Tibetan demand for independence which appears to have lost its fire and appeal. By highlighting the Uighur crisis, the United States is stoking Uighur separatism, and it almost seems reminiscent of the “mujahideen” being propped up against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

While Russia and China seen a common ground in opposing US reassertion, their economies are still vulnerable to American and West European pressures. Open hostilities with the United States or Western Europe are unthinkable for Russia having lived through decades of the Cold War. But China might be tempted to hit out at a US proxy like Taiwan whose air space was violated by two PLAAF fighters today. Japan too scrambled war jets against Chinese intrusions. US rhetoric against China has risen several notches and to all appearances moves are afoot to contain China. There is no role for India here as yet but it is sensible to keep a close watch on the situation.

Almost certainly, if Turkey goes back on the S-400 deal, India cannot hold out on its own purchase of the Russian system. US officials have already spoken of supplying India with comparable American systems (probably at a discount) and the price of still going ahead with the S-400 purchase would be strategically unaffordable. Even though the country is neck-deep in the general election process, the foreign policy establishment is comparatively insulated from it and uninvolved. It should be alert to the possibilities of major frictions involving the US, NATO, Russia and China. The S-400 deal would amount to more trouble than India can take currently. And any US moves on the Uighurs would have ramifications in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir.