Post S-400 Deal, India and Russia Cautiously Await US Response
| Ashok Dixit, Editor - Foreign Affairs, IOP - 07 Oct 2018

Post S-400 Deal, India and Russia Cautiously Await US Response

By Ashok Dixit

New Delhi, Oct 07, 2018:  Another summit between India and Russia is over and the takeaways for both sides have predictably been significant, more so for New Delhi than Moscow.

Delegation-level talks held in New Delhi on Friday saw both sides inking eight significant agreements in several sectors, including railways, space and fertilisers, but the most anticipated one was Russia’s decision to supply five S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range surface-to-air missiles to India at an estimated cost of USD 5.4 billion, which translated in Rupee terms amounts to a monumental Rs.40, 300 crores.  India and Russia, however, failed to sign agreements for four 1135.6 Krivak Class frigates (USD 2 billion) and approximately 600,000 AK-103 Assault Rifles.

The S-400 Triumf air defence system can engage up to 36 targets at any given point of time and launch 72 missiles simultaneously. It has a proven record of neutralising air attacks, including by stealth aircraft. It has a target detection range of up to 600 kilometers and ballistic missile destruction range of between five to 60 kilometers. Apart from India, only two other countries are recipients of the S-400 defence missile shield- China inducted six of them in 2014 at a cost of USD three billion and Turkey will get the missile defence shield in 2019. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are currently negotiating for the missile, as per a media report.

The delivery of these missiles is expected to begin towards the end of 2020, with New Delhi agreeing to cough up 15 percent of the total amount as advance through the traditional rupee-rouble mechanism.

What the leaderships of both countries would now have to be wary or concerned about, is how far the United States in general, and its President Donald Trump in particular, would be willing to turn a blind eye and not apply sanctions on receiving countries under the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) law, that imposes penalties for defence purchases from three countries – Iran, Russia and North Korea.

The Indian Government’s view that the negotiations for the purchase of the S-400 missiles has been done in the national interest and much before CAATSA was given legal sanctity earlier this year, might not be entirely accepted by Washington as it anticipates the possibility of another ‘Cold War’ era similar to the one that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Will the United States accept New Delhi’s appeal for a sanctions waiver on grounds that most of its weaponry is primarily of Russian origin and of widespread use in the Indian armed forces is the big question? Immediate past developments tells us that Washington has not shied away from applying the sanctions through this sweeping legislation on others (Read China).

For the present, Washington has responded with studied caution, saying that for the time being, it will not indulge in a pre-judgment on whether the sanction is to be imposed on Moscow or not. 

Several signals reportedly emerging from within the Trump Administration suggest that there could be a one-off sympathetic waiver in the offing, given that the United States continues to see India as an important ally and that it would be careful about understanding what the implications could be on bilateral ties long term if an exercise in punishment were to be indulged in.

Officially though, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi has said, “Waivers of the CAATSA Section 231 will be considered on a transaction-by-transaction basis. We cannot prejudge any sanctions decision.”

It is Washington’s view that Moscow’s moves to offer arms and other assorted weaponry to other countries, including China and India, is questionable, and therefore, it feels that counters have to be put in place to economically cripple the Russian defence sector by arresting existing money flows.

The October 5, 2018, summit-level meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the 19th between the two countries, the first one having taken place in 2000.

It is a no-brainer that in each of these summit-level discussions of the past, defence cooperation has occupied preeminence and followed by agreements to cooperate on counter-terrorism, space, climate change, nuclear energy, science and technology, promotion of culture, youth affairs and sports etc.

Almost 60 percent of the Indian armed forces weaponry is of Russian origin and, therefore, it stands to reason that neither country would want to allow its time-tested security ties to be compromised, not even if perceptionally threatened by the American sanctions regime.

According to one media report, Moscow and New Delhi’s decision to use the rupee-rouble purchasing route for the missile deal is aimed at circumventing CAATSA.

Experts and observers of the India-Russia relationship are of the unanimous view that it is a partnership that has stood the test of time. If viewed from the Russian perspective, India is seen as a “locomotive” of global growth, having a finger in every part of the world, be it the United States, China, the Middle East and or Afghanistan.

For some years, it was felt that the relationship had gone off the boil, derailed so to speak, but now, it has been brought back on track in the wake of President Trump’s recent aggressive “America First” approach to global trade. In the past few weeks, bilateral dialogue was seen to have been more energetic. There was also a desire by both sides to look for ways to enhance inter-regional cooperation.

One expert has said that the threat of sanctions has probably provided the much needed fillip for both Moscow and New Delhi to come closer.

(Ashok Dixit is a senior journalist with 24 years of rich cross-editorial functional experience in covering and reporting on developments in South Asia. He had been associated with ANI as a Senior Editor for more than two decades. He can be contacted at

Photo - S-400_Triumf-35 Wikimedia / PMO India

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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