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Despite Washington Objecting, Russia & India Sign $5 b Deal For S-400 Triumph Anti-Aircraft Missile System

By Vusala Abbasova October 8, 2018

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on the left and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the right at the meeting in New Delhi. / Bir Bahadur Yadav

India will purchase the S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile system produced by Russia, despite severe pressure from Washington to not go through with the deal and possibly face sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in New Delhi on Friday where he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sign the $5.43 billion contract.

"The deal demonstrates the highest level of trust and understanding between India and Russia," Sergey Chemezov, the head of Rostec State Corporation, said on Friday, according to a report by India’s Northeast Today.

The head of Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev, said the deal is the biggest of its kind in the history of Russian-Indian cooperation and the largest to date for the company. Rosoboronexport is the sole state intermediary agency for Russia’s import and export of defense technologies and services, and a subsidiary of Rostec State Corporation.

India is one of the Russian defense industry’s biggest customers. About 70 percent of the Indian Air Force’s equipment is Russian-made, while 80 percent of its naval fleet is Russian as well. Moscow and New Delhi currently have military contracts worth of $35 billion.

Yet doing business with Russia comes with risks, especially since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in which Russia has been suspected of meddling; and Russia’s behavior in Ukraine. Last year the Trump administration adopted the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as an official response to the incidents, complete with a sanctions package. Under CAASTA’s terms, any country engaged in a “significant transaction” with the Russian defense and intelligence sectors could automatically come under American sanctions. 

That is precisely the case for China. Last month the White House hit Beijing following the Chinese military’s purchase of Russian military jets and surface-to-air missiles. Russia, the world’s second-largest arms exporter after the U.S., exports 70 percent of its military production to Asia – mostly to China – as well as India and Vietnam.

But shortly after India officially concluded the deal with Russia, an unnamed U.S. embassy spokesperson in New Delhi made clear that the U.S. is not interested in damaging the military capabilities of American allies or partners, saying that, “waivers of the CAATSA section 231 will be considered on a transaction-by-transaction basis.”

"The intent of our implementation of CAATSA is to impose costs on Russia for its malign behavior, including by stopping the flow of money to Russia's defense sector. CAATSA is not intended to impose damage to the military capabilities of our allies or partners," the spokesperson said, signaling that Washington may forgive India, which is seen as a counterweight to Chinese influence in Asia.

Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system is one of the most sophisticated air defense systems on the globe. It can target unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), as well as ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 400 kilometers and at an altitude of up to 30 kilometers. Analysts call it a ‘game changer’, and some say it is far superior to its foreign counterparts.

The U.S. is suspected to be worried about India’s purchase of the system because the S-400 allegedly has the ability to collect information about the capabilities of aircraft in its vicinity, including the American-made F-35 fighter jet, a fifth-generation combat aircraft that is designed to perform ground attack and air superiority missions.