Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Doubts over Defence Supplies to India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : S-400 Triumf system

Mains level : Complications over India-Russia defence deals

With tensions escalating between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis, India, which has major defence cooperation with Moscow and Kyiv, faces uncertainty over timely deliveries of the S-400.

About S-400

  • The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system, capable of destroying hostile strategic bombers, jets, missiles and drones at a range of 380-km.

US reservations against S-400 purchase

  • The US has made it clear that the delivery of the five S-400 systems is considered a “significant transaction”.
  • Such deals are considered under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of 2017.
  • It could trigger sanctions against Indian officials and the Government.

About CAATSA

  • The CAATSA is designed to ensure that no country is able to increase military engagement with Iran, North Korea and Russia without facing deterrent punitive action from the US.
  • The sanctions are unilateral, and not part of any United Nations decision, and therefore no country is bound to accept them.
  • Section 231 says the President shall impose no fewer than five different sanctions on any Government that enters into a significant defence or intelligence deal with Russia.
  • Section 235 lists 12 options, including stopping credit lines from US and international banks such as the IMF, blocking sales of licensed goods and technology, banning banks, manufacturers and suppliers, property transactions and even financial and visa sanctions on specific officials.
  • However, the law also empowers the President to waiver sanctions or delay them if the waiver is in the US’s “vital national security interests”.

Has the US used CAATSA before for S-400 sales?

  • The US has already placed sanctions on China and Turkey for purchase of the S-400.
  • The sanctions included denial of export licences, ban on foreign exchange transactions, blocking of all property and interests in property within the US jurisdiction and a visa ban.

Types of sanctions laid

  • In 2020, the US sanctioned its NATO partner Turkey, which it had warned about CAATSA sanctions for years, besides cancelling a deal to sell Ankara F-35 jets.
  • The sanctions on Turkey’s main defence procurement agency, also included a ban on licences and loans, and blocking of credit and visas to related officials.

Likely impacts after India’s purchase

  • The Biden administration has no firm indication on where it leans on India’s case.
  • However, several senators (US parliamentarians) have called upon the Biden administration to consider a special waiver for India.
  • This is on account of India’s importance as a defence partner, and as a strategic partner on US concerns over China and in the Quad.
  • Other US leaders thinks that giving a waiver to India would be the wrong signal for others seeking to go ahead with similar deals.

India’s dependence on Russia

  • While Russia has been a traditional military supplier sharing platforms and technologies that others would not, the cooperation has further deepened in recent years.
  • The defence trade between the two countries has crossed $15 billion since 2018.
  • Even today, over 60% of Indian military inventory is of Russian origin, especially with respect to fighter jets, tanks, helicopters and submarines among others, while several deals are in the pipeline.

Why is the S-400 deal so important to India?

  • Security paradigm: S-400 is very important for India’s national security considerations due to the threats from China, Pakistan and now Afghanistan.
  • Air defence capability: The system will also offset the air defence capability gaps due to the IAF’s dwindling fighter squadron strength.
  • Russian legacy: Integrating the S-400 will be much easier as India has a large number of legacy Russian air defence systems.
  • Strategic autonomy: For both political as well as operational reasons, the deal is at a point of no return.

Conclusion

  • The deal is a way for the Government to assert its strategic autonomy.
  • India had earlier agreed to stop buying Iranian oil over the threat of sanctions in 2019, a move that caused India both financial and reputational damage.
  • Not giving in to the US’s unilateral sanctions would be one way to restore some of that.

 

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