Is Russia Getting Ready to Sell India the Deadly S-400 Air Defense System?

April 1, 2018 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: S-400MilitaryTechnologyWorldRussiaIndia

Is Russia Getting Ready to Sell India the Deadly S-400 Air Defense System?

If so, New Delhi might be hit with U.S. sanctions. 

India and Russia have started to move forward on a potential purchase by New Delhi of the powerful S-400 air and missile defense system.

However, India might come under American sanctions because of the new Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that was recently signed to law. Depending on New Delhi’s reaction to those sanctions—which is very likely to be adverse—the U.S. Congress has unintentionally torpedoed any hope of solidifying a new strategic partnership with India as part of Washington’s efforts to counterbalance a rising People’s Republic of China.

Earlier the deputy head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Vladimir Drozhzhov told reporters at the ArmHiTec exhibition that Moscow hoped to sign a deal with India this year. “I hope so," Drozhzhov said according to the TASS news agency.

Russia and India have long had a close partnership to the point where New Delhi was essentially a de facto ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Moscow supplies India with more than 60 percent of its military hardware. But in recent years, with the rise of China and India’s economic reforms, Washington and New Delhi have reached a rapprochement. Indeed, there is a burgeoning partnership between India and the United States as they seek to balance Beijing’s rising power.

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However, the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act—which was signed last August—could threaten such warming ties. If India continues to purchase Russian defense articles—and New Delhi shows no sign of terminating its long-standing relations with the Kremlin—the country could be sanctioned under the U.S. sanctions law.

The U.S. Defense Department refused to comment on if India would automatically be sanctioned. “I can't comment on pending legislation,” Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana W. White said at the Pentagon on March 29. “But what I can say is that, ultimately, those decisions are sovereign decisions, and so those are decisions that India has to make for itself.”

However, the wording of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act does suggest that New Delhi would in fact face sanctions. If there are sanctions levied on India, New Delhi is not likely to react well to the news.

The Indians are extremely sensitive about anything that implies an impingement on their sovereignty after regaining their independence in 1947 after 150 years of brutal British colonial occupation. As such, New Delhi is very touchy about any action that smacks of colonialism or implies that a foreign power has a veto over its sovereign actions—especially by a power that reminds them of the British. Thus, new American sanctions will almost certainly torpedo a partnership between the United States and India and drive New Delhi back towards Moscow.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons.