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US sanction cloud hangs over India, Russia arms deal

India kept the Trump administration in the know as it formally concluded the contract for purchase of S-400 systems from Russia.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2018 08:07 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US sanctions,Defence ministry,Russian S-400 missile system
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a session of the Russian-Indian business summit in New Delhi on October 5.(REUTERS)

Although New Delhi has been granted exemption from US sanctions for purchase of Iranian crude, there is no word from the Trump administration for a similar waiver of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction Act (CAATSA) for purchase of five units of Russian S-400 missile system worth $5.4 billion by India. Both India and Russia concluded the contract for supply of long- range surface to air missile system during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India last month.

According to South Block officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, while India has made out a case for a waiver on grounds that the negotiations of the deal pre-dates CAATSA, fact is, any exemption granted by US will only be known when the Defence ministry makes the initial payment for the missile system.

“With Russia already under US sanctions, it is for both Moscow and New Delhi to decided one mode of payment. Whether CAATSA has been waived or not will only be known once the Defence Ministry negotiates the mode of payment with its Russian counterpart,” said a senior government official.

However, Indian officials are positive that the Presidential waiver under CAATSA will be granted for not only the S-400 missile system but also the manufacturing of AK-47 rifles by a joint venture of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) of India and Kalashnikov Concern of Russia under the “Make in India’ rubric.

According to the senior government officials, as the US has nothing similar to offer at this weapon category or price, India may be exempted from the sanctions in both the cases, provided no further purchases or arms deals are signed with Moscow.

The Indian military proposes to arm its infantry and frontier forces with top-end assault rifles but has intentions to use the AK-47 rifle or its derivative in the hinterland, especially in counter-insurgency operations.

India kept the Trump administration in the know as it formally concluded the contract for purchase of S-400 systems with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on September 14 reassuring Washington that the Indian Air Force has the precise technical knowhow to shield electronic signatures of its US aerial platforms from being shared with the S-400 system. The NSA visit to Washington was preceded by an IAF technical team’s visit to Pentagon to discuss the same.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman also pitched for a CAATSA waiver with her US counterpart James Mattis on October 19 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting plus in Singapore and will reiterate the case when she goes for a bilateral visit to the Pentagon next month.

First Published: Nov 12, 2018 08:03 IST