The United States warns India that it would not get a waiver on its planned acquisition of S-400 air defense systems from Russia, implying that New Delhi will face sanctions similar to those imposed on Turkey for buying the advanced equipment.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters on Friday, some political officials said the US' warning would significantly raise the risk of sanctions on India if it pressed ahead with a plan to purchase Russian missiles.
The warning comes as the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump has been attempting to push India to scrap the mega $5.5 billion deal for five air defense systems with Russia and avoid a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
Washington has said New Delhi does not have a wide waiver from a 2017 US law, known as the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) legislation, which aims to deter countries from purchasing Russian military hardware.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US embassy spokesperson in the Indian capital said the Trump administration was aware of reports of India’s planned purchase of the S-400s, but noted there had been no deliveries yet.
“We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under the CAATSA. CAATSA does not have any blanket or country-specific waiver provision,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
“We have not made any waiver determinations with respect to Indian transactions with Russia.”
Informed sources also told Reuters that Washington has said India’s decision to buy the Russian missiles would jeopardize future arms transactions with the US, such as high-end fighter planes and armed drones.
Moreover, Richard Rossow, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the news agency that, “There is a narrow chance India can avoid sanctions, presuming the S-400 purchase is completed. At the moment, it’s a good bet that sanctions will be applied against India.”
Rossow also said the outcome could depend on how India-US defense cooperation progresses, adding that India had been working with Washington on security in Asia more than ever before and this could be a mitigating factor.
India shrugs off US warning
Reacting to the report by Reuters, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said, "India and the US have a comprehensive global strategic partnership. India has a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia."
In clear defiance of the US warning, Srivastava added, "India has always pursued an independent foreign policy. This also applies to our defense acquisitions and supplies which are guided by our national security interests."
India has previously said that it needs the S-400 long-range surface-to-air missiles to counter alleged threats from China. The two neighbors have been locked in a face-off on their disputed Himalayan border since April, the most serious in decades.
The S-400 is an advanced Russian missile defense system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometres away.
The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey last month for its acquisition of the Russian air defense systems under CAATSA.
A number of NATO member states, spearheaded by the US, have criticized Turkey for its purchase of the S-400, arguing that the missile batteries are not compatible with those of the military alliance.
Washington says the Russian missile systems pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defense systems.
Ankara has rejected the accusations and says the S-400s will not be integrated into the US-led military alliance.