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US Reconciles to India’s Special Defence Partnership with Russia

Published Jan 10, 2020
Updated Mar 02, 2020

In the geo-politics of major power defence and security relations India seems to have transcended the impossible – conflict and competition between the West implying the United States and the East – Russia.

While the United States has been extremely concerned of countries as India and now a NATO partner Turkey having deep relations with Russia and China, in the case of New Delhi Washington appears to have accepted the inevitable.

Given the long India Russia strategic partnership which is also a deep dive into military technical cooperation going down decades in the last century, the US now believes that pulling back New Delhi away from Moscow is not feasible.

Thus a senior  US official said as per a PTI report providing a new insight on imposition of CAATSA the act of the Congress that is designed to keep Russia away from military that there will be no curbs recommended by the administration, “I know India has expressed valid concerns… they don’t want to have a sustainment line completely shut down… That’s the last thing we want to do with a significant partner. We don’t want to degrade their defence capabilities”.

The United States under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) raised the threat of sanctions against entities that undertake defence sales with Russian companies.

India and Russia have signed a contract for supply of the Russian manufactured S-400 Triumf (NATO SA-21 Growler) during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India in October 2018.

 “What we don’t want India to do is to introduce something that as we continue to go forward in this partnership makes it challenging or exposes risk to our technology on future acquisitions,” the official said requesting anonymity. “It has been reported in different places, mostly outside of the US, that there was an understanding that there’s a blanket waiver. There is not. I would start with that there is not a blanket waiver. Congress certainly never designed that or anticipated that, nor did the (Trump) administration,” said the official as per the PTI.

“There is a case-by-case analysis on where CAATSA sanctions could be applied. CAATSA sanctions also can range in depth as to how deep-cutting and to who, the entities and the people. And those options are always there,” the official said.

He also said, “Indian officials know that there is a risk of application of sanctions. Indian officials also know that we want to work with them to find a path forward where they have historic sustainment lines that certainly don’t put them at CAATSA risk”.

As per the official as far as there is no risk to US platforms from an acquisition by India the CAATSA will not be applied. “The challenge we have with any state like India is new acquisitions on significant systems that would either put at risk our platforms or expose our technologies to an adversary. And so we said this very simple – Turkey was a perfect example. The S-400 put at risk the F-35. The S-400 also could put at risk other platforms, and so we’ve had these conversations very candidly with all partners,” said the senior State Department official.

Clearly the US also has interests in making arms sales to India. Thus despite the evidence of deep India Russia military technical cooperation which is evident from the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA) signed during the Indo US 2+2 Dialogue in December the US is persisting with defence technology and trade cooperation with India.

Vice President (Strategy and Business Development) at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Vivek Lall remarked that, “This agreement will facilitate close technology transfer with private industry in India and ease the process of doing business including applying for licenses to support mutual interests, Make in India, increased industrial and defense cooperation, and regional stability,” Lall said. “To further our relationships, the ISA will enable high-end technologies and defence collaboration to be shared amongst the industry to further leverage Indian industry capabilities and indigenise future R&D and production activities to support mutual US-India interests”, he said

Strategic equations are non-linear and may defy logic. Thus, it appears that the United States Department of Defence popularly known as the Pentagon, reflecting the shape of the structure within which it is housed, may support India and Russia arms trade given the challenges faced in payments due to imposition of CAATSA.