The United States is trying to discourage India from buying large defence systems from Russia, an action that might attract sanctions, according to a senior State Department official. The 2017 law Countering America's Adversaries through Sanction Act or CAATSA, requires that countries that have significant defence cooperation with Russia must be sanctioned by America.
India is planning to buy five S-400 Triumf air defence systems for around $4.5 billion from Russia.
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Tina Kaidanow, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, who returned from India recently, said: “We’ve discussed CAATSA with the Government of India just as we have discussed it with a number of others who might be potentially contemplating purchase of large defence systems from the Russians. We want to work with all of our partners to help them identify and avoid engaging in any potentially sanctionable activity.”
Trump regime seeks to ‘protect India’
The Trump administration has publicly expressed its desire to protect India from CAATSA, considering the strategic ties between the two nations. Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have urged lawmakers to make changes in the law so that partners such as India are not punished. But efforts in this direction are being strongly resisted by Democratic lawmakers who want to put the administration on the mat on Russia relations.
“…I can’t prejudge and I don’t want to prejudge anything regarding the imposition of sanctions under CAATSA because we don’t want to get to that place. We really want to be in a place where we find a way forward with all of our allies,” Ms. Kaidanow said.” “Our encouragement here is to strengthen the U.S.-India defence trade relationships. That’s the focus of all of this.”
She said, “We have seen activities by Russia in those places as well that disturb us…We have real concerns about Russian activities, the acquisition of these systems in theory is beneficial to the Russian government. That is our set of concerns….We’ve made it clear and, therefore, our hope is that other countries will take that into account as they make their decisions. Absolutely we are not going to talk about what's going to happen down the road.”
‘U.S. to make progress with India’
Ms. Kaidanow hoped the U.S. could make progress with India on concluding pending foundational defence agreements. “I think we can hopefully make some progress in that relatively soon,” she said. “If we want that defence relationship to be everything it can be, if we want to realize that full potential, then those foundational agreements are important and we are going to need to find that way forward.”
The official said the U.S had given India new options to address concerns raised by India regarding some of these agreements.
Indian officials familiar with the negotiations said some provisions in the standard agreements that the U.S does with treaty allies such as Japan were not comfortable for India.