On Sunday, 27 May, Indian and Russian defence officials announced the conclusion of negotiations surrounding the sale of the S-400 system. The potent defence system will cost the Indian Air Force nearly Rs. 40,000 crore, but could potentially cost India a lot more.
The deal had been struck for the system to be established along the 4000 kilometre Sino-India border. The S-400 is a top-of-the-line, long-range air defence system could secure what has been a volatile territory. Russia currently uses the S-400 in Latakia, from where it can target most of Eastern Syria. As one American Air Force pilot put it, it is “not even remotely” fun for anyone to fly in that region now.
However, there could be a spanner in the works in the completion of this Indo-Russian defence deal. In July 2017, the American Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The bill resolved to pose sanctions on Russia, North Korea and Iran for a multitude of reasons relating to national security.
Most importantly for India, CAATSA also gives the American Congress the right to impose sanctions on any country that conducts military trades with any of the countries mentioned. State-of-the-art missile defence systems undoubtedly come under such a category, and have raised an eyebrow in Washington D.C.
In an exclusive with NDTV, William Thornberry, the Chairman of the House of Armed Services Committee – which oversees defence budgets and trades – announced America’s displeasure with the deal. Thornberry said that the acquisition of the S-400 system “threatens our [USA’s and India’s] ability to work interoperably in the future.”
Additionally, Thornberry also said that the S-400 deal “will limit…the degree with which the United States will feel comfortable in bringing in additional technology into whatever country we are talking about.” This could potentially mean that cutting-edge defence tools – such as the infamous Predator drones – could be off the table for India. The drones were earmarked for usage against terrorist cells along the Pakistan border.
However, India’s past history of leading the famed non-alignment movement during the Cold War may just save them from any sanctions or trade difficulties with America. According to Thornberry, there is an “additional flexibility for nations that have historical ties” with Russia. India and few other countries might fall under this provision.