By Jaishree Balasubramanian
India inked a military deal on Friday worth U.S. $5 billon to buy S-400 missiles from Russia, disregarding American warnings about arms purchases from Moscow.
The missile deal and several other agreements were concluded after wide-ranging talks in New Delhi between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, officials said. New Delhi underplayed the contract and both leaders did not mention it in their respective press statements.
A joint statement issued at the end of the one-day talks touched briefly on the missile deal, saying “the sides welcomed the conclusion of the contract for the supply of the S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile System to India.”
The Indo-Russian deal came a month after U.S. and Indian ministers struck a defense accord in Delhi aimed at fostering deep security and political ties. Washington agreed to give the Indian military encrypted defense technologies.
Friday’s S-400 deal could result in American sanctions on arms purchases from Russia, as framed under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), according to a retired Indian diplomat.
“The U.S. CAATSA legislation has been designed to punish Russia, and not harm countries who are friendly to the U.S. like India,” former Ambassador Anil Wadhwa told BenarNews.
He said India had informed the United States at the highest levels on many occasions that this agreement had already been negotiated before CAATSA came in the scene and “hence India deserves a waiver, which is allowed under U.S. law.”
“The United States must consider the situation which India finds itself in – nuclear-armed and belligerent neighbors on its borders – leaving it no choice but to acquire S 400 to defend itself,” Wadhwa, a senior fellow with the think-tank Vivekananda international Foundation, said.
The U.S. has urged its allies not to trade with Russia’s defense sector, warning that the S-400 missile defense system would be a “focus area” for it to implement punitive sanctions against a nation undertaking “significant” business deals with the Russians.
India is seeking the long-range missile systems to tighten its air defense mechanism. S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defense system.
China was the first foreign buyer to purchase the Russian missile system, but Washington slapped sanctions on Beijing over the deal, according to news reports.
India – which manufactures very few of its own weapons – is the world’s biggest defense buyer, and Russia supplies most of its military equipment and spare parts, BBC News reported.
Several other agreements signed
Modi and Putin also discussed ways to boost a strategic partnership in key areas, including defense, counter-terrorism, energy and space.
Apart from the defense deal, several other agreements were signed in areas of nuclear energy and railways. One of the agreements related to cooperation on India’s manned space project called Gaganyaan.
“The decisions taken today will further enhance our cooperation and contribute to the restoration of peace and stability in this challenging world,” Modi said at a joint press conference with Putin.
Putin said the two sides had agreed to boost cooperation in combating terrorism and drug trafficking. They also condemned all kinds of state support to terrorists including cross-border terrorism and providing safe havens to terrorists.
India has long accused Pakistan, its neighboring rival, of engaging in cross-border terrorism.
A top Indian government official, who did not want to be named, said the negotiations for the S-400 missiles had preceded U.S. sanctions against Russia by a long time. “It fulfills a certain defense requirement of the country and, therefore, the government has taken the decision, obviously, in the national interest,” the official with the External Affairs Ministry told reporters.
In the wake of Friday’s deal, the U.S. embassy in New Delhi said the intent to impose sanctions against Russia was not aimed at harming the military capabilities of American “allies or partners.”
“Waivers of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) section 231 will be considered on a transaction-by-transaction basis. We cannot prejudge any sanctions decisions,” an embassy spokesperson told NDTV.