Indo-Russia bilateral ties enjoy an exemplary stature from past several decades, particularly in defence deals both the countries have maintained the close relations. No doubt, Russia is the biggest defence partner of India where around 62% of the defence equipment are imported from Russia to meet the requirements of Indian Armed Forces. While continuing this unimpaired relationship, India has concluded price negotiations with Russia to procure S-400 Triumph Air defence missile system for nearly around Rs. 40,000 crores. But this deal came under the scanner of US law i.e., Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which seeks to punish the entities engaged in transactions with the or intelligence establishment of Russia.
Understanding CAATSA and its implications on India
Enacted on August 2, 2017, the CAATSA aims to counter the aggression from the Russia, Iran and North Korea through the punitive measures. Title II of the Act, specifically talks about sanctions on Russian Interests such as oil and natural gas extractions, exports of defence equipment and security sector, investments, its military intervention in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Section 231 of the Act, empowers the US President to put sanctions on at least five out of the 12 listed sanctions as are enumerated under section 235 of the Act, on persons involved in significant transactions with Russia on defence or intelligence sectors.
The basic motive of the Act is to restraint the US allies or partners to not collaborate with any Russian entity on any of the matter listed in Title II of the Act. It is to be noted that mere dealings by any country with these entities does not lead to the automatic imposition of sanctions under the CAATSA. For imposing the sanctions the key determinant is that there should be a “significant transaction” between the named Russian entity and an outside agency. What is a significant transaction is not based upon the monetary value, but as explained by the State Department:
The factors considered in the determination may include, but are not limited to, the significance of the transaction to US national security and foreign policy interests, in particular whether it has a significant adverse impact on such interests; the nature and magnitude of the transactions; and the relation and significance of the transaction to the defense or intelligence sector of the Russian government.US Department of State
Imposition of restriction on India’s deal with Russia for the procurement of S-400 Triumf System will be a setback in bolstering defence ties with Russia. S-400 System will tighten its air defence mechanism, particularly along the nearly 4,000 km long Sino-India border. For this, both the countries in 2016 had signed an agreement on the “Triumf” interceptor based missile system which can destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at a range at ranges of up to 400 km.
If implemented, the CAATSA would have severely impacted India’s arms procurement from Russia in too many ways. Firstly, the planned procurement of S-400 air defense system, project 1135.6 frigates and Ka226T helicopters will be deterred by the US authorities, secondly, it would impact the operations of Joint Ventures which are exiting or planned between Russian and Indian Defense companies, such as Indo Russian Aviation Ltd., Multi-Role Transport Aircraft Ltd and Brahmos Aerospace. Thirdly, it would have an effect on the purchase of spare parts and tools required for the maintenance of equipment, which India is wholly dependent upon Russia.
Why is S-400 Air Defense System important for India?
Apart from cross-border terrorism, naxalism, and growing radicalization from its immediate neighbours, India’s security landscape is challenged by the unresolved border disputes from Pakistan and China. Between these two countries, China poses several threats to the security of India and thereby becoming unpredictable for India’s security calculus. The border dispute with China over some parts of Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims to be its part, the Doklam Stand-off where Militaries of both the countries came face to face, the various incidents of Chinese Military personnel’s entering into India’s territory without the purpose of entering. These incidents of military assertion by China supported by the unpreceded increase in military spending which made it second biggest military spender in the world and the encirclement of India through land and infrastructure poses severe threats to the security of India which is unforeseeable in future.
Therefore in order to meet the myriad security challenges, it has been a constant endeavour of India to meet its defence preparedness by equipping armed forces with the state of the art arms. In this direction, India is spending a large chunk of its total budget on the strengthening of its armed forces where for the year 2018-19 it kept Rs. 2, 79,305 crores. In 2018-19 total capital expenditure amounts to Rs. 93,982 crores, this represents 31% of the total government capital expenditure.
The S-400 defence system is a large complex of radars, control systems and different types of missiles. The highly automated S-400 has radars that can pick up an incoming object up to a 1,000 KMS away, track several dozen incoming objects simultaneous, distribute the targets to appropriate missile systems and ensure a high success rate. The command post detects tracks and identifies the target. Then the tracked object is taken over by manned anti-aircraft missile systems of the complex, which launch the . The system is specifically designed to detect and destroy an array of targets-strategic bombers; aircraft used for electronic warfare, early warning, and reconnaissance; fighter jets such as F-16 and F-22; and incoming missiles such as Tomahawk.
Hence, induction of S-400 air missile system will prove to be a stealth for Indian Armed Forces to counter rising threats from both Pakistan and China.
Waiver for India
The US Congress report allowing the Presidential waiver for India under CAATSA will be greeted as a big relief for both India and the US. In order to avert the stand-off situation between the governments of both the countries, the US government granted waiver to India through “modified waiver authority” under section 231 of the CAATSA, which allows the US President to waive the sanctions in certain circumstances, for six months at a time, as long as he certifies it is in the US national interests and does not “endanger operations”. According to Foreign Secretary there are three fold cases which justifies the waiver to India firstly that no weapons India bought would be used against the US, secondly that the US wants to partner with India in the Indo-Pacific, would hamper India’s military abilities by applying the sanctions or denying the country’s crucial technology and lastly as India significantly reduced its dependence on Russia for procurement of defense equipment, and it would be unfair if US rewards punitive measures for India.