Russia Will Supply S-400 To India In December, The Looming CAATSA Sanctions On India

The potency of the S-400 anti-aircraft system is questioned by both Turkey and China while the systems cannot detect low altitude fighter jets, drones supersonic cruise missiles and stealth fighters.

Russia will start supplying its S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to India in the fourth quarter, the Interfax news agency quoted Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport as saying on Thursday.

India signed a $5 billion deal for S-400 missiles in 2018, drawing warnings from the United States that such an acquisition would trigger sanctions as part of a wider programme against Russia.

While India is expected to get five squadrons of S-400 systems from Russia starting December 2021, CAATSA sanctions might be narrowly targeted, but the symbolic consequences would undermine all of these priorities.

The potency of the S-400 anti-aircraft system is questioned by both Turkey and China while the systems cannot detect low altitude fighter jets, drones supersonic cruise missiles and stealth fighters.

Perhaps, this is the reason why the Indian Air Force (IAF) is relying on Hammer air-to-ground missile on Rafale fighter as a future weapon as the missile does not need to be fired from a height; it just hugs the mountain features, zooms to a height when approaching the target and then destroys it top-down at a ninety-degree angle with the capacity of last-minute target adjustments using three different guidance systems apart from GPS. The IAF has already tested the Hammer missile and is already in its inventory with the French even offering joint development and production of this long-range potent weapon.

Indian defense forces are expected to receive the first delivery of the Russian S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles (SAM) later this year. With the delivery fast approaching, the Biden Administration will soon need to decide whether to sanction India under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which came into effect following allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

The law includes provisions that require the U.S. President to impose sanctions on any nation with ‘significant transactions’ with Russian defense industry.

While US lawmakers and Administration officials have reportedly discussed a waiver for India, when asked about CAATSA on his recent visit to New Delhi, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “Well, we have – we have our laws. We’ll – we apply our laws, but we shared our concerns with India about this. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself. We’ll see how things evolve in the coming months.”

In other words, there is room for a waiver, but sanctions are also possible, and the US has yet to make a final judgment. Before India takes delivery of the S400 system, the US Administration should stand firm with a decision to grant India a CAATSA waiver and prepare to formally inform Congress that it is in the vital national security interest of the United States to shield India from sanctions over their S400 purchase.

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This decision is not without controversy. Adversaries (China) and allies (Turkey) have already been sanctioned under CAATSA. The law bolsters a significant national security priority for the United States and has support from both major political parties. So, what justifies an exemption for India?

Second, the US and India are aligned in several crucial areas: a free and open Indo-Pacific, anti-terrorism, ending the pandemic, resilient global supply-chains, trade, cyber security, space, education, climate change, and a commitment to democracy, to name a few. The US is well-aware of India’s critical position as a regional force in the Indo-Pacific, as indicated in Secretary Blinken’s recent agreement with Foreign Minister Jaishankar to expand the multilateral security partnership and counter China’s growing influence in the region. On the geopolitical level, India’s crucial role as part of the “Quad” grouping and its pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific region cannot be ignored.

CAATSA sanctions might be narrowly targeted, but the symbolic consequences would undermine all of these priorities. Following the 1998 nuclear tests conducted by India, the US-led a group of western countries to impose sanctions on India creating deep mistrust. Washington soon regretted that choice and worked to rebuild ties. But the current maturity of the relationship took over two decades to rebuild. Sanctions would endanger progress made over two decades under five American presidents. While Indians would view sanctions as an avoidable and unwarranted ‘punishment,’ the Russians (and Chinese) would view US sanctions on India as a geopolitical and commercial victory.

Sanctions would put on hold the Major Defense Partnership the two countries share, derail Quad cooperation, and have a negative ripple effect on more than 40 ongoing dialogues between the two democracies, including those related to: defense trade, military exercises, and vaccine diplomacy. The public backlash would place a political chill on relations, and it is unlikely that the damage would be limited to the defense sector.

Right now, the US-India partnership is stronger than ever. When the US requested countries around the world to stop crude oil imports from Iran, India worked to comply given US flexibility and negotiations behind the scenes.

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