India OKs Russia defense deal in spite of US threats

India OKs Russia defense deal in spite of US threats
Russian President Vladimir Putin waves as he arrives at the Indian Air Force Palam airport in New Delhi, India, on Oct.4, 2018. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Updated 05 October 2018

India OKs Russia defense deal in spite of US threats

India OKs Russia defense deal in spite of US threats
  • Under  CAATSA, the US administration can impose sanctions on any country that has “significant transactions” with Iran, North Korea or Russia
  • The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defense system

NEW DELHI: Amid warnings of punitive sanctions by the US, India is to sign a landmark defense deal with Russia on the purchase of S-400 Triumph air defense missile system during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi on Friday.

“The negotiations are over and it is with the government now,” said Indian Air Force chief B.S. Dhanoa in a press conference on Wednesday.

This confirmation comes a day after Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said in Moscow that New Delhi will witness the “signing of the agreement to deliver S-400 air defense systems.”

“I don’t think that CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act) is likely to come in the way of the deal. But the decision belongs to the government,” said Dhanoa on the possible US sanctions if New Delhi goes ahead with the deal.

Under  CAATSA, the US administration can impose sanctions on any country that has “significant transactions” with Iran, North Korea or Russia.

“We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that would trigger sanctions under CAATSA,” a State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday when asked about India’s plan to purchase the multi-billion S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

“The administration has indicated that a focus area for the implementation of CAATSA Section 231 is new or qualitative upgrades in capability — including the S-400 air and missile defense system,” the spokesperson added.

The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defense system. New Delhi has been negotiating the deal with Moscow since 2016. India has claims to be Russia’s oldest defense partner. 

Harsh V. Pant, of New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said that “the Trump Administration’s reaction to the S-400 deal will be closely watched.”

He said: “India cannot really afford to side-line Russia in its defense calculus. Moreover, a militarily potent India is central to the US strategy in the wider Indo-Pacific.”

Former diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar said that “if you look at the relations with India ever since Trump has come to power it has been an upward trajectory, unlike Washington’s relationship with so many other countries.”

However, he said, the US should respect New Delhi’s decision. “We have a special and privileged partnership with Russia. It is equally important. There is no question of either-or relationship. We have to have excellent relationships across the board with both the US and the Russia.”

Pant said the “defense deal is an attempt to stabilize the military relationship with Russia and there are growing concerns in New Delhi about Russia’s increasing tilt toward Pakistan as it seeks to curry favor with China.”

Pant underlined that “New Delhi has long maintained that it needs a close relationship with Moscow so that the Beijing-Moscow relationship could be dented and the growing Sino-Russian collusion should ideally be at the top of the agenda during the summit.”

“In the new global environment New Delhi and Moscow are recalibrating their ties,” Pant added.

Pranay Kotasthane, of Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore-based think tank, argued that “a good principle for India while making defense deals is to diversify trade relations with existing defense suppliers.”

He said that “our trade basket with Russia is exceedingly narrow, which means that we don’t have many levers to hedge against changing geopolitical equations. So a big defense purchase should be supplemented with diversified trade relationship in other sectors.”