US punishes China for buying Russian arms; may have implications for India
The United States has imposed sanctions on the Chinese military for buying Russian weapons, including the S-400 air defence missile that is also on India’s shopping list. The Trump administration, without naming anyone, said other countries with similar shopping lists should “think twice” about their plans..
The punitive actions come under a Russia-related law that requires the US to sanction anyone undertaking significant transactions with Russian intelligence and military services, including arms manufacturers.
The action against the Chinese entity is the first instance of secondary sanctions imposed by the US under Combatting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a 2017 law that seeks to punish Russia for invading Ukraine and interfering in American elections in 2016.
Equipment Development Department (EDD), the Chinese agency sanctioned is a part of the Chinese Military Commission and is charged with R&D, developing, procuring defense equipment for the Chinese military.
The US said it was sanctioned for buying Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 systems delivered in December and January.
A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the new action said a determination has not been made yet for “other potential recipients of the S-400” but discussions are on with them. Without naming them the official went on to say, “We have made it very clear to them that these – that systems like the S-400 are a system of key concern with potential CAATSA implications”.
While those discussions are on and in some cases no purchases have taken place yet, the official said the US hoped to dissuade those still talking to Russian, “We hope that at least this step will send a signal of our seriousness and perhaps encourage others to think twice about their own engagement with the Russian defense and intelligence sectors”.
India plans to buy five Russian S-400 air defense missile systems at an estimated cost of $6 billion and has pressed the US officials for a waiver under the expanded authority granted to the President in a recent amendment to CAATSA, as sought by senior officials, namely secretary of defense Jame Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
India’s request for a waiver came up at the 2+2 ministerial in New Delhi earlier this month, as did the possibility of waivers from Iran-related sanctions that seek to compel buyers of Iranian crude to cut their purchases to zero by November 4.
US officials have indicated that waivers might be considered on a case-by-case basis if certain conditions being met — for both CAATSA and Iran — but they have publicly offered no guarantee to India or any other country in line for secondary sanctions, leading to some uncertainty in New Delhi.
“There are other CAATSA decisions like the one on China in the pipeline,” said a former US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Turkey, a NATO ally, is said to be at the top of the list as it has decided to press ahead with the purchase of S-400 missiles despite explicit US warnings.
Ashely Tellis, a leading US expert on relations with India, recently wrote that President Donald Trump is personally committed to preventing the proliferation of S-400s. “His antipathy toward the S-400 thus extends to acquisitions across the globe, whether by putative adversaries such as China, treaty allies such as Turkey, or emerging partners such as India”.
But Indian officials have sounded upbeat arguing “can you imagine the US slapping sanctions on India given the recent trajectory in relations?” They also point to Mattis’s support for waivers to mean a waiver was in the works because “he couldn’t have been freelancing without the support of the White House.”
CAATSA has named specific Russian entities in the defense intelligence sectors with whom any significant business transaction, could leave the buyer open to secondary sanctions of the kind slapped against the Chinese military procurer.
China was the first outside buyer of the state-of-the-art S-400s that are apparently without a rival.
The EDD and its head, Li Shangfu, were sanctioned for completing “significant transactions” with Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport. The sanctions would mean denial of export licenses, and blocked foreign exchange transactions in US jurisdiction.