India’s Cabinet Committee on Security has given approval for the purchase of 5 advanced Russian S-400 air defense missiles systems, in the amount of $5.4 billion, according to an unnamed government official, cited by the Times of India on September 27th.
This report comes one week before Russian President Vladimir Putin visit to New Delhi for the bilateral annual summit.
The Cabinet Committee on Security led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi need to provide final approval for any defense procurement before signing of a contract. If the information provided by the unnamed source is true, this would clear the air of all speculations regarding the deal. Sputnik cited Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on September 18 that the negotiation with Russia on the S-400 was almost at the final stage, but that it was yet to be seen whether it would be signed before the Russian president’s visit.
There has been no official confirmation as of now, on top of there being speculation that the deal may be postponed following the US impositions of sanctions on the Equipment Development Department (EDD) of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) and on its director in response to China’s purchase of Su-35 aircraft and the S-400 system, under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
The unnamed sources said India will have to pay only 15% of the total amount upon signing the contract, while the other 85% of the payment are linked to deliveries. The Indian Air Force is supposed to get the first S-400 missile system 24 months after the contract is concluded.
“Looks like the final contract is going to be signed. I hope it gets signed. It will add a big punch to the air defense capability of the Indian Air Force and the country,” retired Air Marshal Anil Chopra was cited by Sputnik.
The Indian contract for the purchase of S-400 from Russia is connected with the position of the United States. The US CAATSA law involves the introduction of secondary sanctions against the organizations that enter into “significant transactions” with sanctioned Russian companies.
US officials also said that other countries willing to purchase the S-400 may be subject to sanctions, similar to Turkey and China.
Earlier, Mike Pompeo, the head of the State Department and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis flew to India to discuss the situation.
On September 6th, the US and India signed a critical defense information sharing agreement that allows each country greater access to each other’s communications networks but could not come to an agreement on India’s planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system. The two sides also agreed to enhanced defense cooperation, to include joint exercises on India’s coast in 2019 and the establishment of a hotline between the US and India.
Mike Pompeo said that no decision had been made regarding the purchase and possible sanctions. However, he did hint at possible waivers.
“We do understand the history of India’s relationship with Russia and legacy systems. Our effort here, too, is not to penalize great strategic partners like India, a major defense partner,” Pompeo said. “The sanctions aren’t intended to adversely impact countries like India. They are intended to … have an impact on the sanctioned country, which is Russia. And so we’ll work our way through the waiver decision as the days and weeks proceed, and we’ll do that alongside our partner India.”
On September 12th, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Well said that talks with India regarding the procurement of S-400 from Russia are still on-going.
We continue to have conversations with the Indian leadership on ways that we are working to hold Russia accountable for its behavior,” she said.
The sanctions “are designed to impact Russia,” Well said in response to whether India could be targeted under CAATSA. “We are working through the implications of CAATSA and the significance that we attach to CAATSA,” she added.
“I think there’s a great understanding of the legacy of India’s military, defense cooperation relationship with Russia. The focus and the conversations are really on the kinds of a defense acquisition that would shape India’s strategic relations over the next generation and what impact that has on interoperability and the ability to continue to deepen its partnership with [the] U.S. and others,” Well also said.
Sputnik reported that on October 15, 2016, India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with Russia for the procurement of five firing units of the S-400 air defense system.
In all, the Diplomat cited numbers provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Moscow has been New Delhi’s largest defense supplier since the 1960s, accounting for 68 percent of India’s arms imports from 2012 to 2016.