Despite their differences, analysts predicts that the bilateral relationship will remain robust
ISLAMABAD—In a major setback to U.S. efforts to “isolate” Russia, India signed a deal with Moscow to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems worth $5 billion.
Giving priority to its national interests and defense needs, New Delhi faced-off with the Trump administration by ignoring warnings that such a purchase could trigger sanctions under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
The S-400 missile defense system is aimed at bolstering India’s shield against air attacks from arch-rival Pakistan as well as China.
“The sides welcomed the conclusion of the contract for the supply of the S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile System to India,” read a joint statement issued by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
India will now become the third country to receive one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world. China acquired the S-400 in 2014, while Turkey signed a deal worth $2.5 billion with Russia for the missile batteries in December 2017.
Three days after Delhi and Moscow inked the accord, Pakistan and China responded with a big bang when Beijing confirmed it would provide Islamabad with 48 modern military drones. If this indeed materializes, it will be the biggest-ever exchange of military hardware between the nations.
Lt.-Gen. Assad Durrani, former chief of Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, the ISI, nevertheless told The Media Line that Pakistan had nothing to worry about regarding the S-400 Russia-India deal.
By contrast, the move has caused shock waves in Washington, which has made clear that countries dealing with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors will face automatic financial penalties.
Experts say that the sale of the S-400 is of particular concern, with the U.S. repeatedly having warned countries against buying the weapons system.
Sources from the Indian Foreign Ministry revealed to The Media Line that authorities had earlier informed the U.S. about the impending deal and requested a sanctions waiver.
“India’s foreign and defense ministers Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman had informed [U.S. Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo and [U.S. Secretary of Defense] James Mattis, who visited India last month,” said one anonymous diplomat.
However, the American officials did not give India a guarantee that a waiver would be granted for the S-400 deal.
Russia and the U.S. have locked horns since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Moreover, the Kremlin’s alleged interference in the 2016 American presidential elections has further fueled tensions.
In its quest to “teach Russia a lesson,” Washington has placed sanctions on several Russian firms.
The Trump administration introduced CAATSA in 2017 to specifically target Russia, Iran and North Korea with economic and political sanctions.
The Chinese military was the first to bear the brunt of new U.S. law when last month sanctions were imposed on Beijing over its purchase of 10 Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 missiles.
“The S-400 deal reached between India and Russia is likely to cause damage to the India-U.S. relationship which has been growing recently,” Mohammad Ajmal, Associate Professor of International Law at an Islamabad University, contended to The Media Line.
Earlier this week, India’s Minister for Oil Dharmendra Pradhan confirmed that two state refineries had placed orders for some nine million barrels of crude from Iran in November, the month when U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil purchases take effect.
“Two of our oil companies have made nominations to purchase Iranian oil in November,” he said, speaking at The Energy Forum in Islamabad. “We do not know if we will get a waiver or not.”
Reacting to the Russia-India deal, the U.S. said it did not want to hurt the military capabilities of its “allies or partner,” a move some are construing as sign that despite their differences the Washington-Delhi bilateral relationship will remain strong.