Will the US put sanctions against India for S-400?

Vishnuaravi

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This article talks about India’s decision to go ahead with the S-400 missile defence system from Russia and in doing that, taking on a danger that the US might impose sanctions on India under its CAATSA law. 

CAATSA stands for Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. In very simple terms, this is a law passed by the US under which, if any country engages in defence or intelligence transactions with three countries, that is Russia, North Korea and Iran, then those countries can face sanctions from the US. There are a total of 12 sanctions that can be imposed under the CAASTA law. Now because India is going ahead with its decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system, India may also have to face sanctions under this particular law.

So the choice that India has made, Is it worth it? And what dangers does India face because of this particular choice?

Now, the decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system was not taken just now. It is a decision that officially was taken in 2018. So obviously, India cannot now go back on that decision because this transaction is almost close to 5.5 billion dollars.

So rather than talking about whether we should go back on the decision or not because that boat has sailed, let’s look into the significance of this decision. Let’s also look into whether there are other countries also that have the same kind of system, or Is India the only country to buy it from Russia?

Defence experts around the world have said that this defence system that is the S-400 missile defence system is by far the best available throughout the world. Even the US system does not come close to it. India is not the only country that has taken the system from Russia. Russia has promised to Belarus, China (very interestingly also will buy this system), Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Now there are two very interesting things here.

Number one, Turkey, after buying the S-400 missile defence system, has already faced sanctions from the US, although Turkey is a need to ally with the US. So Turkey is a part of the NATO group, where the US also is one of the members, even then, Turkey has faced those sanctions. Belarus in itself is a very interesting case study if you know about it. So Belarus, whose president is Lukashenko since 1994, is said to be the last dictatorship of Europe. So the president of Belarus, who is more of a dictator, has the complete support of Vladimir Putin. He has fake elections in the country and remains in power just with the support of Vladimir Putin.

Interestingly, in fact, in May this year, there was a big international story that came up. There was a plane that was flying from Athens to Lithuania. It was going over Belarus and the Belarus president sent its fighter planes, which force this civilian aeroplane, a passenger aeroplane, to land in Belarus. Why?

Because one of the people who were flying in this plane was a critic of the Belarus president. That person was forcefully taken out of the plane and was jailed in Belarus, and then the plane was allowed to go away, which led to a lot of controversy in Europe.

Now, let’s come back to India. India in the past has witnessed many such requests from the US. For example, in the past when the US had to put sanctions on Iran and had to make sure that they don’t earn money, the US asked India to drop down its oil import from Iran, which India eventually did, even though Iran used to give us oil at the cheapest rate, it is also the closest oil supplying country to India. But still, India accepted the request from the US. But this time around, India is not doing that.

Now, why is that? Why is it that India is taking such a big danger?

Number one, the sanctions under the CAATSA law are not compulsory. That is, the law says that the US president can decide whether or not sanctions have to be put. So the US president that is Joe Biden decides that India is a very important ally of the US and its partnership is too important. Then the US president can say, no, we will not put any sanctions on India. The condition is it can only happen if India promises the US that in the future, we will try to reduce our dependence on Russian weapons. India so far has not given any such assurance, but there are many people who believe that the US President Joe Biden, because of good relations with India through QUAD, through Indo-Pacific, might not put these sanctions on India.

Now India, on the other hand, has its own arguments. India says that the first discussion on buying the S-400 missile defence system took place at the BRICS summit in Goa in 2016. So in the BRICS summit in 2016, when the leaders of all the BRICS nations were present, Prime Minister Modi had a one-on-one conversation, an informal conversation with Vladimir Putin, under which it was discussed that India will think about buying the S-400 system. The CAATSA law, on the other hand, came into being in 2017. So as for India’s argument, our decision or our mind had been made up prior to the CAATSA law, so it should not apply to India.

The second argument is most of the surface to air missiles that India has are of Soviet origin. So if we have the S-400 missile defence system, it would be much more compatible with the existing weapons that India have. I’m sure you would know, till the 1990s, Russia was by far the biggest supplier of weapons to India of all kinds because of various reasons.

Number one, India had a close relationship with the Soviet Union. They offered us good rates. They also offered us to take weapons by paying them in Indian rupee rather than paying them in the dollar, and they offered us top of the line weapons. However, since the LPG reforms, since India has opened up to the world, India has tried to diversify its defence buying. Since the beginning of the 21st century, India’s defence buying has tilted more towards the US than towards Russia.

Right now India has the Hercules aircraft on which Prime Minister Modi just landed at the Prayagraj Expressway if you saw the news. India also has the Apache attack helicopters. India also has the Chinook helicopters from the US and a lot of other stuff. Now under the CAATSA law, there are 12 sanctions that can be imposed. Out of these 12, there are two main sanctions that India has to worry about. The first main sanction is the prohibition on banking transactions, meaning that if India pays to a third country in dollars, it might become a problem because a US government might say that we will not exchange these dollars, which are coming from India. The second problem is export sanctions that will have greater consequences because now India would not be able to export a lot of stuff to the US.

Now we are hoping that these sanctions are not imposed. In fact, India has already paid a part of the money to Russia for buying S-400 and interestingly, the money that we paid to Russia for buying S-400 was not in US dollars so that we can avoid this particular sanction. The first part was paid in the Rupee-Ruble agreement. Ruble, as you know, is that Russian currency. The US also offered us that if you don’t buy the S-400 missile defence system, instead of that, we will offer you our own defence system, which is called a THAAD

So it would be interesting to have a small comparison between the S-400 and the THAAD system that belongs to the US. PAC-3 is also one of the systems that the US has made.

The operational range, the maximum speed, the flight altitude in comparison with THAAD indicate that S-400 is a more sophisticated and better system as compared to the THAAD system of the US and that is why India’s policymakers are taking the choice to go ahead with this decision. In fact, as per the official communication, the first squadron of the S-400 will already be in India by the end of December.

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Hi, I am Vishnu, and I have been a blogger for more than 2 years now; and I will provide some knowledgeable current international news to my readers.

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