India likely to come under US sanctions over missile defence system deal with Russia: officials

India likely to come under US sanctions over missile defence system deal with Russia: officials

WASHINGTON - The United States has said it has discussed with India a newly enacted American law that could potentially determine the purchase of the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia as sanctionable activity, Hindustan Times has reported.

In a carefully worded statement to Hindustan Times, the US state department did not directly say if the purchase of the weapon system by India was sanctionable.

Refusing to confirm or deny discussions with the US on this issue, an Indian official in New Delhi said, “India’s relations with third countries (such as Russia) were not a part of discussions with the US and our defence requirements were determined by us only, independent of pressures and outside influence.”

India and Russia finalised an inter-governmental agreement on the S-400 Triumf air defence systems in October 2016 and are currently in advanced negotiations for at least five systems worth an estimated $4.5 billion. The negotiations have been stuck because of differences over the price, Indian officials said.

Reports have suggested India and Russia will try to sort out these differences during defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s upcoming visit to Moscow. Vladimir Drozhzhov, deputy head of Russia’s federal service for military-technical cooperation, told reporters on Thursday Moscow hopes to ink the deal with New Delhi in 2018.

But the deal could set India and the US on a “collision course”, Cara Abercrombie, a US defence department official with expertise on military ties with India and who is currently with Carnegie, wrote in an op-ed in Axios, an online news publication, this week.

It could leave India open to sanctions under the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which mandates the US administration to punish entities engaging “in a significant transaction with...the defense or intelligence sectors” of Russia.

The legislation was signed into law by President Donald Trump in August 2017 and went into effect in January. It seeks to punish Russia for “malign” activities in Ukraine and Syria and meddling in the 2016 US polls.

Abercrombie suggested a waiver from US Congress to allow India to go ahead with the deal in view of its security needs.

A US state department spokesperson said on Friday in response to a question on whether the S-400 deal could run into CAATSA trouble, “We have discussed CAATSA with the government of India, and the US intends to work with our partners to help them identify and avoid engaging in potentially sanctionable activity.”