Sanctioning India over Russian arms deal would be counterproductive
On December 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by his Foreign and Defense Ministers, arrived in India for a summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India and Russia have a defense relationship dating back to the Cold War, and leadership-level summits are a common affair. Yet the timing of the meeting was unfortunate, just as the United States and several European capitals sound the alarm bells over Russian preparations for what could be a major military offensive in Ukraine.
Moreover, Modi’s meeting with the autocratic leader of Russia came just days before the Prime Minister of India represented the world’s largest democracy at US President Joe Biden’s Democracy Summit. Finally, the India-Russia summit landed at a sensitive time in the burgeoning Indo-American strategic partnership. The Biden administration may soon have to decide to impose sanctions on India for its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system.
The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, was passed by Congress following complaints about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The law requires the US president to impose sanctions on entities foreigners engaged in important transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. Although the S-400 agreement between India and Russia predates the adoption of CAATSA, India still faces sanctions.
While the timing and optics of the Russia-India summit are problematic for the United States, the shortage of substantial take-out has shown the limits of the once strong India-Russia partnership. The summit produced a list of 28 chords which was visibly thin on content. Apart from an extension of their military-technical cooperation framework, the vast majority of agreements signed were relatively low-level memoranda of understanding between various research institutes, sports associations and cultural festivals.
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Although Russia has been India’s primary defense supplier for most of the past half-century, the only notable defense deal announced during Putin’s trip was a deal to produce Kalashnikov assault rifles in India. . Meanwhile, an expected logistics exchange deal, like the one India signed with the United States in 2016, has reportedly been “postponed for some time.”
At the summit, India and Russia announced their intention to achieve $ 30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025, up from just $ 8 billion in 2020. This contrasts with the $ 122 billion in Indo-trade. in 2020, a drop linked to the pandemic from the record. – breaking $ 146 billion in bilateral trade in 2019. As if to further highlight the disparity, shortly after the India-Russia summit, the US International Development Finance Corporation announced a $ 500 million loan to First Solar Inc. . to build a solar panel factory in Tamil India. Nadu state, marking one of the largest loans ever issued by the relatively new development agency.
The Putin-Modi summit also served to highlight some of the growing geopolitical differences between Moscow and New Delhi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took the opportunity to criticize the United States, noting: âWe have expressed our grave concern to our Indian friends about American activity there under the slogan of so-called strategies Indo-Pacific and the creation of closed block-type structures. . “
Despite the Modi government’s accession to the Indo-Pacific, Russian officials have repeatedly criticized the concept in New Delhi. Lavrov had previously said the West “was trying to engage India in anti-Chinese games by promoting Indo-peaceful strategies.” He also attacked the Indo-Pacific concept as being “divisive” and designed “to exclude China”, insisting, “Our Indian friends are smart enough to understand this”.
However, India is all-in on the Indo-Pacific. Last year Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar explained that it was “a matter of satisfaction that the Indo-Pacific concept is increasingly accepted”.
Meanwhile, Lavrov’s criticism of “closed block-type structures” represented an attack on the Quad grouping of Indo-Pacific democracies that India has joined with Australia, Japan and the United States. inclusive dialogue in the region. Russian officials have insisted that India instead adopt exclusive dialogues led by Russia and China, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS, and the Russia-India-China trilateral dialogue. Many in New Delhi complain that these organizations remain largely crippled by the differences between their member states.
Even though Russia complained about two pro-US initiatives that the Modi government endorsed, it had nothing critical to say about China or the unprecedented crisis on the Sino-Indian border in 2020, one that made the first victims of border hostilities in over 40 years. In contrast, the United States has repeatedly condemned China’s actions and sent drones and special cold weather gear to the Indian military as the crisis unfolded.
Russia’s tightening strategic embrace towards China, at a time when Sino-Indian relations have plunged to new lows amid a deadly border crisis, has further challenged the test an Indo-Russian relationship already diminished compared to the peaks of the Cold War. In a reversal from the end of the Cold War, Russia now sells some of its most advanced military hardware to China ahead of India, including the S-400 system. Moscow and Beijing are also conducting an increasing number of sophisticated military exercises and synergizing their diplomatic statements and threat assessments.
While the long-term trends are clear, after half a century of intimate defense cooperation, Russia will remain an important diplomatic and security partner of India for the foreseeable future. Even though New Delhi has diversified its defense suppliers in recent years – with significant purchases of American, European and Israeli materiel – the Indian military remains heavily dependent on Russia to maintain its traditional military platforms. Russia is also the only country willing to offer India nuclear submarine technology, while Pentagon officials admit they had no direct alternative to the S-400 to offer India. .
These realities cannot be brushed aside by the US government despite its justified frustration with Moscow. Just as India has gradually accepted the tens of billions of dollars in arms and aid provided by the United States, its rival, Pakistan is not designed to disadvantage India, America can recognize the historical and pragmatic foundations of Russian-Indian relations.
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America must also be clear about its own national interest. India is a vital strategic partner for the United States in the Indo-Pacific and, as I pointed out in a heritage fact sheet earlier this year, it meets the specific legislative requirements required for a executive waiver of CAATSA sanctions. Indeed, years after the passage of CAATSA, Congress extended the executive branch’s override power specifically with India in mind.
More recently, Senators Ted Cruz and Tod Young introduced a bill, the CRUCIAL Act, which would effectively exempt India and other Quad members from CAATSA sanctions. US officials recognize that sanctioning India under CAATSA is unlikely to change defense trade between India and Russia; likely to fuel Indian fears over American reliability and provide ammunition to critics of America in New Delhi; and offer a victory to Putin. The Russian government welcomes every opportunity to exploit divisions in Indo-American relations and to highlight how, unlike Russia, the United States is encroaching on India’s strategic autonomy.
The changing landscape of the Indo-Pacific suggests that the yawning gap between threat perceptions and geopolitical prospects for Russia and India is likely to widen in the years to come. America can nurture this transition by presenting itself as a more reliable and efficient strategic alternative to Russia, bringing India closer to Quad and its vision for the Indo-Pacific. Or it can redouble its efforts to limit Russian defense exports, sowing discord in Indo-American relations and giving President Putin a Christmas present in advance.