‘U.S. discouraging India from buying Russian missile system’

Washington: The U.S. is “discouraging” India from acquiring S-400 missile defence systems from Russia but Washington will have to weigh “important geostrategic considerations” on growing calls for a presidential Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) waiver to New Delhi, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Coordinator for Sanctions Policy has told lawmakers. The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on Turkey under the CAATSA for the purchase of a batch of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia.

In October 2018, India signed a $5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, despite a warning from the then Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.

The Biden administration has not yet clarified whether it will impose sanctions on India under the provisions of CAATSA for procuring the S-400 missile systems. The CAATSA is a tough U.S. law that was brought in 2017 and authorises the U.S. administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia.

James O’Brien, President Biden’s nominee for the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy, was asked at his confirmation hearing if the U.S. experience with Turkey provided any warning or lessons on how to proceed with India. Following the U.S. sanctions on Turkey over the procurement of S-400 missile systems, there were apprehensions that Washington may impose similar punitive measures on India.

Russia has been one of India’s key major suppliers of arms and ammunition.

“I believe they are very different circumstances, and, of course, different security partnerships – but how do you believe we should think about the possibility of sanctioning our friends and not just threats?” Senator Todd Young asked O’Brien, a former career employee of the State Department.

In response, O’Brien said it was difficult to compare the two situations, with a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally that is breaking with legacy defence procurement systems, and then with India, a partner of growing importance, but that has legacy relationships with Russia.

“The administration has made clear that it is discouraging India from proceeding with the acquisitions of Russian equipment, and there are important geostrategic considerations, particularly with (unintelligible) relationship to China. So, I think we have to look at what the balance is,” he said.

“And, of course, India’s got some decisions in front of it, so it would be premature to say more. But this is something I look forward to working with you and other interested members,” O’Brien said.

India pursues an independent foreign policy and its defence acquisitions are guided by its national security interests, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in November last year, amid apprehensions over the possibility of US sanctions on New Delhi over the procurement of S-400 missile systems from Russia.

The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.

Senator Young said India was currently taking delivery of the Russian S-400 system and was also in the process of acquiring new frigate ships from Russia. “Both are important systems for the Indians,” he said.

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