Growing realisation in US on India’s compulsions for S-400 air defence deal
With Russia on course to supply the first batch ofS-400 air defence systems to India within the next two months, the Indian side believes there is greater understanding in Washington about New Delhi’s compulsions for the $5.4-billion deal.
Despite US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman describing the S-400 as “dangerous” and saying during her recent visit to New Delhi that the deal is not in India’s security interest, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that there is growing realisation on the American side about why India opted for the weapon system to complete an air defence shield for key cities and installations.
The people said recent contacts between the Indian and American sides had indicated that India couldn’t be put in the same category as Turkey, which has been slapped with secondary sanctions for buying the S-400 under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
“The American side has shown understanding of India’s compulsions for acquiring the S-400, including the threat emanating from China,” said a person who declined to be named so that he could discuss sensitive issues.
“If the aim of the US is to work with partners such as India to counter China’s aggressive behaviour across the region, slapping sanctions on a key system needed for the country’s defence is not the best way to about things,” the person added.
The Indian side also believes too much US pressure on Russia at this juncture would only force Moscow into a tighter embrace with Beijing.
The people noted that Sherman, in her public remarks in New Delhi, had held out the possibility of resolving problems related to the S-400 deal through discussions. She told reporters that the US wants to “be very thoughtful about the ways ahead, and discussions between our countries try to solve problems”.
The external affairs ministry said last week the Indian side had explained its perspective to the US during recent discussions on the S-400 deal. Russia has described possible sanctions under CAATSA as an “illegal tool of unfair competition”.
People familiar with the latest developments on the Russian side said Moscow is on course to deliver the first batch of S-400 systems within the next two months.
“The issue is very much decided and the deal is progressing according to schedule. It is in the national interests of both India and Russia. This is part of the strategic cooperation between the two countries and there will be no change in the schedule,” a second person said.
The people said several teams of Indian Air Force personnel had already been trained in Russia to operate the S-400, and pointed out that the system is a defensive and not an offensive weapon.
India and Russia signed the deal for five S-400 systems in October 2018, and all deliveries were to be completed in a five-year period.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, noted it would be difficult for the US to put India and Turkey in the same category when it came to the S-400 system.
“The reasons for Turkey buying the S-400 were different – it is a NATO all that was seeking to diversify defence imports away from the US. On the other hand, India has become much closer to the US in terms of defence purchases over the last 10 years and the S-400 contract was the only big ticket deal with Russia in that period,” he said.
“The US has to take a strategic view of the Indian deal and not see it from the narrow view of countering Russia. At this juncture, if the US penalises India for the S-400 deal, it will be seen as an unreliable partner, especially after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the AUKUS deal, which riled France, another NATO ally,” Patil added.