In a much-needed relief, the US Congress last week urged the US President to waive sanctions against India for its purchases from Russia under the CAATSA.
CAATSA (or Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) is a tough law that authorises the US Government to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia.
The India-specific waiver comes at a time when the hostility between the US and Russia is at its peak for the first time since the end of the Cold War, following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The US waiver is a big diplomatic triumph for India because as the world’s largest importer of military hardware, it acquires more than 50 per cent its requirements from Russia and has refused to toe the US red line for a ban on all imports from Russia after the Ukraine war broke out.
“It is the most consequential vote in the House of Representatives in strengthening the US-India relationship since the civilian nuclear deal. Many other resolutions have been introduced, but none that have actually passed the rules committee and gotten a vote, let alone such an overwhelming vote,” said US Congressman Ro Khanna, a US lawmaker of Indian origin, who had moved the resolution.
The resolution won overwhelming approval from both the Republicans and the Democrats in the Congress, reflecting a rare bi-partisan agreement on US foreign policy. “It will become the law after the US Senate puts a stamp on it, but it has great persuasive significance for the executive decisions of the US President,” Khanna said.
CAATSA became a sticking point in the India-US ties after New Delhi inked a deal to secure the S-400 missile defence system from Russia. The US had been mulling whether to apply or waive CAATSA sanctions on India over the Russian deal, especially after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine this year.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran described the Congress resolution a major milestone in India-US relations. “In 2018, a waiver provision was added to the CAATSA but that was not an Indiaspecific waiver. An India-specific case will ultimately make it easier for the US administration to give a waiver against CAATSA,” he pointed out.
“The second aspect that is highlighted is that the United States and India are making a common cause against China. If you see Congressman Ro Khanna’s amendment, it specifically mentions that in the Indo-Pacific, the India-US partnership is of great strategic importance,” Saran added. P o l i t i c a l observers say the waiver should not be viewed as a favour.
Rather, it highlights the US Government’s acknowledgement that India is facing Chinese aggression on its borders and it’s important for the United States to support India’s defence to protect its own strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific.
The latest waiver has cleared the decks for India’s $ 5.4 billion deal with Russia to buy the S-400 air defence missile systems and other similar deals. After Turkey, a NATO ally, concluded a similar deal in 2017, the US banned it from buying the F-35 stealth fighter, which the S-400 system is partly designed to counter. The US move is also an acknowledgment of the fact that India is gradually trying to decrease its dependence on Russian military hardware. In fact, the defence ties between India and the US have increased manifold in the last 10-12 years and New Delhi has become one of the major defence partners of Washington.