Russia claims that its S-400 air defence missile system is effective against stealth multi-role fighter jets

NEW DELHI: The Narendra Modi government is in talks with the United States for an exemption to allow India to procure the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia.

India needs a waiver from the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for the proposed deal, estimated to be worth about $5.5 billion (Rs 39,000 crore), officials told ET.

They said the government has conveyed to the US that India cannot abruptly scale down its reliance on military hardware from Russia given the decades-old history of defence cooperation between the two countries.

Sections of US defence establishment and strategic community have also argued in India’s favour as they fear that sanctions could adversely impact Indo-US partnership. “We totally appreciate India’s concerns. It was raised in discussions during senior level meetings last month,” Joe Felter, deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia recently told a news agency. “We also are very concerned because we very much hope to maintain the momentum and the trajectory of this relationship. We want to deepen our cooperation and not to reduce it.”

Cara Abercrombie, a visiting scholar with Carnegie’s South Asia Programme, who had earlier worked with US office of the secretary of defence, recently wrote in a paper for the think tank: “While the US has become its second largest defence supplier – mainly of aircraft and artillery – India still relies heavily on Russian equipment, such as submarines and missiles, that the US has been unwilling to provide.”

“India has good reason to want high-end weapons systems: It is the only country in the world that has contested borders with two nuclear neighbours – Pakistan and China – and has fought wars with both. Forcing India to abruptly cut off Russian supplies would create unacceptable risk to India’s self-defence. If forced to choose between a robust, well-equipped military and US goodwill, India would likely choose the former,” she wrote.

The US Congress had in July 2017 passed the CAATSA to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. President Donald Trump signed it into law in August 2017 and its scope was further expanded in October 2017. Section 231 of the CAATSA mandated secondary sanctions to any nation entering into high-value deals to procure military hardware from Russia.

Russia claims that its S-400 air defence missile system is effective against stealth multi-role fighter jets. The system, which Russia has started supplying to China, has also been deployed by Russia in Syria. India and Russia had in 2016 inked an inter-governmental agreement during the annual summit for procuring the S-400 air defence missile system. The two sides have since been negotiating the contract.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Russian counterpart General Sergei Shoigu discussed the proposed deal when they met in Moscow on April 3. Russian Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev recently said that the negotiation on the S-400 contract might be concluded before India hosts Russian President Vladimir Putin for the annual bilateral summit in October.